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Is Organic Healthier?

Are organic foods healthier than conventionally grown and produced foods?

The short answer: Not necessarily

The explanation: The USDA Organic seal can be used only on products that follow the National Organic Program (NOP) regulations which specify production and processing requirements as well as allowed and prohibited substances. Whether this makes a product “better” for you is a matter of perspective, as the organic standards are not intended to make food healthier or more nutritious, rather they are designed to allow for the use of natural substances in organic farming while prohibiting most synthetic substances.

Take for example, the prohibition against synthetic pesticides. This does not mean that no pesticides are used in organic products or that they will have no residue, rather the organic regulations allow the use of natural pesticides, some synthetic pesticides meet organic criteria, and residues of prohibited pesticides are allowed up to 5% of the EPA tolerance (as the farmland could have environmentally persistent pesticides; or drift may come from pesticides applied on another farm). Residual pesticides are more of an issue on food that is not peeled (e.g., apples, peaches, etc.) vs those that will be peeled (e.g., oranges, bananas).

When compared with conventional foods, the most recent USDA Pesticide Data Program (PDP) Annual Summary shows that over 99% of the 10,000+ foods tested had pesticide residues below the EPA tolerance levels, with a majority of conventional foods having such low pesticide levels, they could qualify under organic rule.

The organic rules also prohibit the use of growth hormones, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering. However organic foods have not been shown to have health or nutritional advantages over conventional foods. Rather numerous studies have shown the two to be similar in relation to vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates.

Related to genetic engineering: As discussed in a previous Simplified article, scientific organizations and regulatory agencies around the world have deemed currently available GMO foods as safe for consumption, and FDA’s 30+ years of evaluating the safety of irradiated food has found the process to be safe.

Due to the costs of meeting NOP requirements, organic food nearly always costs more than the same conventional food, but that does not mean it is better for you or your family. Rather, just like any other purchase, selecting organic is a matter of choice for which you should weigh all the facts, then make the best decision for yourself.

For more information on new organic requirements, see the TAG article on Organic Enforcement.


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