To organic or not to organic

Up till now, I’ve pretty much assumed organic is the better option when buying food. Environmentally friendly? Must be. Better for you? Surely.

Then on the weekend I was re-structuring an article that a colleague had written, comparing organically grown produce with conventionally grown produce.

I don’t want to say much about that because the piece was written for a client and I just don’t want to get myself into any hot water at work. It’s fair to say that the client does have a vested interest, of course, but the article really did get me thinking.

The main thing it got me thinking was that I just accepted the premise that organic was better without doing any kind of independent research at all. I heard some woman on the radio talking about how organic apples taste so much better and I just thought, “Of course they do!”

And maybe they do, but I realise now that I haven’t actually done anything at all to attempt to verify any of the claims of either side. I didn’t really think about the fact that organic producers are allowed to use a range of potentially harmful pesticides, so long as they’re naturally produced. I hadn’t thought about the fact that yields are so much lower with organic produce that if all production was organic we could not feed everyone on this planet. I didn’t know that research had shown that in taste tests many people simply couldn’t detect any difference between organic and conventional produce.

I recognise that I’ve seen a skewed account (though the article does canvass the claims of both sides, and concludes that there is a place for organic produce). I attempted to take a broader look and see if I could balance the score, but what I found was that the volume of material was just so great that I could never really feel like I had a good handle on what was out there.

You could easily convince yourself in either direction with just 10 minutes at the computer. I suppose it might be possible to reach a more educated conclusion by doing real research, but who has time for that?

I DO still think that the fruits and veggies that come from our own garden are better for us. We don’t use any chemicals on them, natural or otherwise. Leigh and Hunter pick offf the snails by hand! And we know they’re fresh. There is no cold storage facility at our place, unless you count our freezer.

But the stuff we buy? I’m confused!


4 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Mark said,

    Regarding “yields are so much lower with organic produce that if all production was organic we could not feed everyone on this planet”… With current farming practices we cannot feed everyone on the planet … with a typical western diet. I expect that with organic farming practices, we could feed everyone on the planet with a healthy vegetarian diet however 🙂

  2. 2

    red15 said,

    That may be true – my issue is that I don’t know if it’s true and and I don’t know how to really find out if it’s true (which is not to say I doubt you, of course. I just doubt my own ability to make a decision about anything, ever).

  3. 3

    Mark said,

    I don’t really know either. So many arguments from both sides. Here’s some from the pro-organic side of the fence:

    When trying to make up my mind about issues which seem contentious, I frequently start from wikipedia. Wikipedia gets a bad name as a reference because “anyone can edit it”, but it can be a good starting point. Well written wikipedia article usually have links to reference material that I’ll follow up. If I think there’s something particularly dodgy, I check the history of changes on the wikipedia article. can be a good place to look if you want to get really stuck into something.

    Then there’s the question of “is the issue really contentious?”. Some would have you believe that there is ongoing scientific debate about climate change. Or evolution.

    In the end, I think the best way to decide is to look at some views from both sides, and see which arguments resonate with you. Who do you feel you can trust? I’ve got no skill in archaeology or deep knowledge of microbiology and DNA. I’ve never actually tried breeding fruit flies, but I know where I stand on the evolution issue.

    On the organic/non-organic (and genetically modified vs non-GM) questions, it’s a bit less clear. Even without getting deeply into the philosophy of “what is truth”, it’s hard be certain about some decisions, but by acknowledging the fact that you don’t KNOW for certain, but you’re making this choice anyway, you’ll be a long way ahead of so many other people in the decisions they make!

    PS. Wow, I kinda went off into a long rambling essay then … slow day at work

  4. 4

    Danny said,

    Life is very simple.
    Organic/Non Organic, don’t worry about.
    Start worrying when your choices are organic/inorganic.
    Climate change ?? Yep, has been for a million years and will for another million.
    It doesn’t matter really anyway. Pluto’s orbit is decaying and it will eventually colide with Earth in 8-10 million years so lets see the Greenies stop that. I’m sure the government will try and tax it.

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