Fall is here, the time to celebrate the harvest.
And a good occasion to look at what's new in organic food. Here are a few fresh reasons to be cheer.
Does organic food promote health?
The European Parliament commissioned a group of experts to review the health advantages of organic food and farming, and the report was published earlier this year.
One of the main takeaways concerns pesticides.
Organic farming restricts the use of pesticides and relies on prevention for plant protection. Eating organic foods lowers the risk of exposure to pesticides and herbicides. Are the low levels of pesticides in conventional foods harmful? Several studies reviewed in this report have shown that exposure to these chemicals during pregnancy was associated with harm to kids’ intelligence quotient (IQ) and development. The report therefore concludes that organic food is especially beneficial for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Another finding is that kids on a biodynamic diet had lower rates of allergic complaints. It is hard to definitely attribute the better health of these kids to organic food, as there might be other healthy habits contributing to their healthier disposition.
And then there are the antibiotics. Organic practices restrict those, and result in agriculture, land and water, that’s lower in both antibiotics and heavy metals, such as cadmium. Overuse of antibiotics leads to antibiotic resistance; organic practices mitigate this public health problem.
The report concludes that there are proven benefits to organic practices, and suggests several policies that could help spread the use of organic farming and foods.
There was lots of media hype around studies that looked at nutrient levels in organic vs. conventional produce. Regarding nutrients, the jury’s still out, and the difference might not be significant enough to matter much. Some studies showed higher antioxidant levels in organics, other showed lower levels of iodine in them.
Regardless, the important issues listed above — pesticides, antibiotics and heavy metals — are reason enough in my opinion to conclude that organic food is healthier for its consumers. And it’s definitely better for the environment, for farmers, and for all other living creatures downstream.
Organic farming is growing in the US
A recent report from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) showed that sales of organic produce were up 23 percent in 2016.
The number of certified organic farms in the country increased 11 percent last year, and the number of certified acres increased 15 percent, to 5 million.
California leads in organic food sales, but my home state of Pennsylvania is in second place!
Young people believe in organic
Organic food adoption is up overall, rising about 10 percent each year, but its popularity is especially prominent among young adults. In a recent Pew research poll 61 percent of under 30-year-olds said that organic is better than conventionally grown food; it was almost that high (57 percent) for people aged 30–49 years.
Among adults younger than 50 years, 71 percent bought organic foods at least once in the past month, and about 40 percent of all US age groups say that most or some of what they eat is organic.
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All these are positive developments, but a note of caution: Organic food is still just a tiny sliver of overall farming and produce.
But by supporting organic and clean production with our purchases we, each of us, are backing the movement. We’re voting for the health of our planet with our wallets.