A Guide to Organic Food
What You Need to Know
- Organic foods are those that are produced using natural, traditional methods without pesticides, fertiliser or any additives.
- Look out for the EU-wide ‘Green Leaf’ logo to ensure a product is truly organic.
- Organic food is credited with being better for the environment, reducing the risk of harmful run-off into streams and river and protecting wildlife.
- There is no conclusive scientific evidence to support claims that organic food has additional health benefits or is more nutritional than non-organic products.
- Organic food is generally more expensive; though look out for supermarkets’ own products.
What is Organic Food?
Organic foods are foods that are produced using natural, traditional methods.
That is, their production does not involve the use of synthetic substances such as pesticides or fertilizers, while they are also free from genetically-modified organisms and other additives.
Within the European Union, as well as in countries including the United States and Canada, producers must satisfy specific criteria in order to market their foods as ‘organic’.
In the UK, the Soil Association and the Food Standards Agency work to check organic foods are what they claim to be while also helping farmers switch over to organic.
The market is strictly regulated, meaning you can be sure that anything you buy with the organic label on has not been produced using pesticides or fertilisers and doesn’t contain genetically-modified organisms.
How to Recognise Organic Food
As of July 2010, all pre-packaged organic food produced in the European Union is required to sport a green ‘Euro-left’ logo.
So, look out for the icon – which is made up of 12 white stars in the shape of a leaf on a green background in order to ensure all the products you buy meet all the relevant standards concerning food production as well as animal welfare, wildlife conservation, eco-friendly packaging.
Benefits of Organic Food
By not using pesticides or fertilizers, organic farmers are less likely to inadvertently pollute rivers and streams.
Instead, an emphasis is placed on soil health and maintaining this through regular crop rotation, composting and the use of natural manure.
Additionally, animal welfare also tends to be better on organic farms.
For instance, giving animals drugs or hormones is not allowed, while animals also need to be kept in humane conditions, with chickens, for instance, able to have room to move around and enjoy natural sunlight.
However, a farm can still treat its animals well and not be certified organic.
Related to this, organic farms can serve as a haven for wildlife. According to the Soil Association, plant, insect and bird life is up to 50 per cent greater on organic farms.
At the very least, with organic foods there are no hidden, unwanted extras, such as fats, salts and sugar.
Furthermore, it is widely-argued that organic foods are more nutritious and better for your diet overall.
However, the FSA advises that “the current scientific evidence does not support this view”, adding that both organic and conventionally-produced foods have to meet the same safety requirements.
Some supporters argue that food produced through organic farming simply tastes better, and as such worth any extra money it may cost.
Of course, such a claim cannot be supported with any scientific evidence and instead is simply a matter of opinion.
Criticisms of Organic Food
Organic foods can cost significantly more than their non-organic equivalents.
While the price gap between the two food types has narrowed since the organic craze took off –thanks largely to supermarkets launching their own organics ranges - a fully-organic weekly shop is still beyond the means of many consumers.
What’s more, some critics argue that a lot of foods are simply faddish and not worth the extra money.
Inefficiency and Environmental Impact
With its shunning of genetically-modified crops and pesticides, crop yields on organic farms have been shown to be considerably lower than those of non-organic farms.
In fact, one study from the Danish Environmental Protection Agency found overall crop yields to be around 40 per cent for some crops.
This has led critics to argue that, despite their popularity in the developed West, organic farms alone are not the solution to meeting growing demand for food on a global scale.
- Read the Soil Association’s Guide to Organic Standards here.
- For more information on organic food, check out this guide from the Food Standards Agency.
- Eating well is great for your skin. Find out more with our guide to natural skin care.
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