A look at whether organic is really better for your health
Growing up, we are inundated with comments like, “if everyone jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?” essentially warning us of the dangers of “jumping on the bandwagon.” However, it seems like this advice did not carry with us into adulthood, as is exemplified by the prevalence and popularity of the “natural” and “organic” food bandwagon.
There is a term that floats around, “pseudoscience,” which is defined as “claims presented so that they appear to be scientific even though they lack supporting evidence and plausibility.” This definition can, in some cases, apply to the bandwagon of the natural food phenomenon. The practice of presenting claims that appear to be scientific extends into our food industry, as organic and all natural products may not, as they often claim, be better for an individual’s health. The way that these products are presented in society leads to phenomena like the health food craze, with people paying 15 dollars for three bags of milk simply because it is labelled organic.
One large issue is the lack of understanding on the part of the consumer. A disenfranchisement with the corporate food industry – especially in light of recent film and literary publications such as Food, Inc. and Eating Animals – has left many people looking for alternatives, despite a lack of true understanding on the subject. An increasing portion of Canadian society is beginning to read only the organic and all-natural labels on food products, willingly shelling out extra money without understanding the Canadian food industry or even comparing ingredient lists between organic and non-organic foods.
In Canada, there are very strict regulations for food safety, shared between the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Health Canada. These strict regulations can perhaps be seen best in the stark difference between the American and Canadian meat and dairy industries. However, Canadian farmers must also adhere to extremely rigid regulations on the application of pesticides, because the government can now measure pesticide exposure in a population through food, to ensure that there is pretty much no chance that the pesticides used by the agricultural industry are negatively affecting the general population. Because of this, there is a big difference between the potential harm of pesticides and the actual risk that accompanies them.
The CFIA recently conducted a study which showed that almost half of the produce certified as organic actually had pesticide residues, meaning that people who chose to buy such produce could have been exposed to a similar level of pesticide as someone buying non-organic foods. While this study is controversial at best, it’s important to remember that organic certification doesn’t eliminate environmental contaminants and biological pesticides. In fact, in the U.S., arsenic is actually considered a viable pesticide because it’s naturally sourced.
Despite such strict regulations for both food production and food labelling, many Canadians still purchase food in an uninformed manner, following the latest food trend and flocking to key buzzwords rather than actively participating in their food experience. There remains a common misconception that because a product is labelled natural or organic, it is automatically better for your health. However, there has been little, if any, concrete evidence that these foods are better for your health. An examination of the nutritional indexes of comparable organic and non-organic products will reveal similar ingredients, simply prefixed with organic on one of the products.
There is a fundamental difference between searching for an alternative in an informed manner and jumping on the bandwagon without acquiring true understanding. Buying something that bears the label organic or all-natural after reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma, without truly understanding the meaning of the label or even skimming the ingredient list of the organic product in comparison with its non-organic counterpart, is not active participation in the Canadian food industry – it’s tossing aside the advice our parents imparted on us so many years ago.