Benefits of Organic Food
2004, Acres U.S.A.
people purchase organic food because they believe it is healthier
than conventionally grown food. The organic industry is constantly
told that there is no evidence to support these claims. This article
looks at published information that shows that organic food is substantially
healthier than conventional food.
Research published in a 2001 study showed that
the current fruit and vegetables in the United States have about
half the vitamin content of their counterparts in 1963. The study
was based on a comparison of published USDA figures.
A scientific study published in the Journal of
Applied Nutrition in 1993 clearly showed that organic food is more
nutritious than conventional food. Organically and conventionally
grown apples, potatoes, pears, wheat and sweet corn were purchased
over two years in the western suburbs of Chicago, and then analyzed
for mineral content. The organically grown food was on average 63
percent higher in calcium, 73 percent higher in iron, 118 percent
higher in magnesium, 178 percent higher in molybdenum, 91 percent
higher in phosphorus, 125 percent higher in potassium, and 60 percent
higher in zinc. In addition, The organic food was on average 29
percent lower in mercury than the conventionally raised food.
A peer-reviewed scientific article published in
the February 2003 Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry stated
that organically grown corn, strawberries and marionberries have
significantly higher levels of cancer-fighting antioxidants than
conventionally grown foods. Some of these compounds, such as flavonoids,
are phenolic compounds that have potent antioxidant activities.
Many are produced by plants in response to environmental stresses,
such as insects or competing plants. They are protective compounds
that act as a plants natural defense and also have protective
properties in human and animal health.
The research suggested that pesticides and herbicides
disrupt the production of these protective compounds. Good soil
nutrition appears to increase the levels of these natural compounds
that have anti-cancer, immune-boosting and anti-aging properties.
Another peer-reviewed scientific study, published
in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed a higher level
of a protective phytonutri-ents in organic food. Dr. John Paterson
and a team from the University of Strathclyde, U.K., found that
organic vegetable soups contain almost six times as much salicylic
acid as non-organic vegetable soups. Salicylic acid is produced
naturally in plants as a protective compound against stress and
disease. It is responsible for the anti-inflammatory action of aspirin,
and helps combat hardening of the arteries and bowel cancer.
The average level of salicylic acid in 11 brands
of organic vegetable soup on sale in Britain was 117 nanograms per
gram, compared with 20 ng/g in 24 types of non-organic soups. The
highest concentration of salicylic acid, 1,040 ng/g, was found in
an organic carrot and coriander soup, while it was not detectable
in four conventional soup brands.
Two comprehensive studies have been published
that compared the differences between organic and conventional foods.
Both studies analyzed around 40 previously published studies. One
study was conducted in the United Kingdom and the other in the United
States, each independently of the other. Both studies came up with
similar conclusions that there is overwhelming evidence that organic
food is more nutritious than conventional food. One of the authors
stated, On average our research found higher vitamin C, higher
mineral levels and higher phytonutrients plant compounds
which can be effective against cancer. Theres also less water
in organic vegetables, so pound-for-pound you get more carrot for
It is no coincidence that consumer demand for
food supplements has grown as the amount of minerals and vitamins
has declined in conventionally farmed food. Many people cannot get
the necessary quantity and quality of nutrition from food grown
with synthetic chemicals.
In the recent past there have been a number of
media stories claiming that, because organic foods are grown with
manure, they contain higher levels of dangerous pathogens. On investigation,
all of these stories were proved to be false, and most of the media
presenters apologized publicly for promoting inaccurate and misleading
It is a requirement of organic certification systems
either that animal manures be composted or that two non-food rotations
be grown on a manured site before it can be used for small crops.
In fact, a UN Food and Agriculture Organization report concluded
that the superior management practices of organic agriculture reduce
E. coli and mycotoxin infections in food: It can be concluded
that organic farming potentially reduces the risk of E. coli infection.
. . . Two studies reported by Woess found that aflatoxin M1 levels
in organic milk were lower than in conventional milk. . . . As organically
raised livestock are fed greater proportions of hay, grass and silage,
there is reduced opportunity for mycotoxin-contaminated feed to
lead to mycotoxin-contaminated milk. The report further stated,
Animal feeding practices followed in organic livestock production
also lead to a reduction in contamination of food products of animal
The use of antibiotics, antimicrobials, and hormones
or other growth promoters is prohibited in organic production. Where
animals are treated with veterinary chemicals, they are not allowed
to be sold as organic. Similarly, the use of synthetic chemicals
as preservatives, colorings, antioxidants, etc., is prohibited in
the processing of organic foods. There is an increasing body of
concern about these synthetic compounds in the diets of humans and
animals use for human food.
Many studies show that most conventionally farmed
foods have pesticide and other chemical residues. Repeated tests
show that many of these foods can carry a cocktail of synthetic
A growing body of scientific evidence is showing
that repeated exposures to cocktails of small amounts of synthetic
chemicals produce a range of adverse health effects. A recently
published study shows that as little a one-tenth of a part per billion
of one commonly used herbicide can damage reproductive systems.
In addition, many scientists believe these exposures of minute quantities
of agricultural chemicals are very significant for children.
A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control
found a cocktail of many toxic chemicals in the blood and urine
of most Americans that they tested. Other studies show that most
living organisms carry a cocktail of synthetic/manmade chemicals.
Only now are scientists beginning to understand the detrimental
effects of minute amounts of these artificial toxins.
Peer-reviewed, published research has demonstrated
that many of these types of chemicals are known to disrupt the hormone,
nervous and immune systems. The escalating increase of certain types
of cancers such as lymphoma, leukemia, breast, uterine and prostate
cancers are linked to agricultural and other synthetic chemicals.
Similarly, a good body of scientific research also links these chemicals
to dramatic increases in autoimmune diseases such as asthma and
chronic fatigue syndrome, and non-Hodgkins lymphoma has gone
from being one of the rarest to one of the fastest growing cancers
among people exposed to agricultural chemicals.
A detailed scientific analysis of organic fruits
and vegetables published in the peer-reviewed journal Food Additives
and Contaminants showed that organic foods have significantly less
pesticide residues than conventionally grown foods.
Most important, scientific studies are beginning
to show that eating organic food results in lower levels of these
pervasive chemicals in humans. A study published in the peer reviewed
journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that children who
eat organic foods have lower levels of one class of agricultural
pesticides in their bodies. The University of Washington researchers
who conducted the study concluded, The dose estimates suggest
that consumption of organic fruits, vegetables, and juice can reduce
childrens exposure levels from above to below the EPAs
current guidelines, thereby shifting exposures from a range of uncertain
risk to a range of negligible risk. Consumption of organic produce
appears to provide a relatively simple way for parents to reduce
their childrens exposure to OP pesticides.
The use of soluble chemical fertilizers has resulted
in high nitrate concentrations in many conventionally farmed foods,
especially in fruits and vegetables. Leafy vegetables can have the
highest concentrations. The leaching of these fertilizers has also
resulted in high nitrate levels in some drinking water systems around
High nitrate content in food and drinking water
can be converted to carcinogenic nitrosamines. Nitrates can impair
the ability of the blood to carry oxygen and may pose a risk of
methe- moglobinemia, a condition that can occur in infants and adults
with a diminished capability to secrete gastric acid. A rise in
the pH in their digestive system allows bacteria to proliferate,
increasing the transformation of nitrate to nitrite. When this nitrite
is absorbed into the bloodstream, it oxidizes iron in the hemoglobin
of red blood cells to form methemoglobin, which lacks hemoglobins
oxygen-carrying ability. In severe cases this can be one of the
causes of Blue Baby syndrome, however in most cases the symptoms
would be tiredness, lethargy and a general feeling of being unwell.
The nitrate content of organically grown crops
is usually significantly lower than that of conventionally grown
products. The governments of Germany and France have encouraged
conversion to organic farming in certain areas in a bid to improve
water quality, particularly in relation to its nitrate content.
The FAO states the case very succinctly: It
has been demonstrated that organically produced foods have lower
levels of pesticide and veterinary drug residues and, in many cases,
lower nitrate contents. Animal feeding practices followed in organic
livestock production also lead to a reduction in contamination of
food products of animal origin.
The facts show that organic food has significant health benefits
because it has negligible chemical residues and pathogens and higher
nutritional values when compared to conventionally farmed food.
Andre Leu is the president of the Organic Producers Association
of Queensland and vice chair of the Organic Federation of Australia.
He can be reached at P.O. Box 800, Mossman, Queensland 4873, Australia,