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The Health Benefits of Eating Organic

Organic food sales have increased by 50% over the last 5 years or so.  Whilst growth did slow during recession, the organic sector has held its position very well overall.   Yes, it costs more, but in our opinion, we think organic is worth it.  Budgets are tight, so if choices have to be made, we would say at the very least buy organic when it comes to dairy, and preferable all animal produce if you eat meat.  It is worth nothing that your local organic veg delivery will be as much as 20% cheaper than organic produce in the supermarkets.
 
The results of a 4 year, £12 million study were released in October 2007 proving that organic food has significantly higher vitamins, minerals and as much as 40% more antioxidants.  And in 2011, a 30 year long study by the Rodale Institute comparing organic with conventional found organic to give better yields, profitability and to be more reliable during drought.
 
Organic food is produced within strict guidelines, covered by standards set by The Soil Association, concerning the use of chemical pesticides, additives, animal welfare and even soil enrichment.
 
Choosing organic avoids the pesticides, chemicals and antibiotics that are routiniely used in conventional farming.  They have documented health risks, so risking exposure in the diet seems sensible. 
 
It is important to consider that chemicals build up in your body over time. Whilst your body can effiiciently remove toxins, it is this gradual build up that is the greatest threat to health. The chemicals in food are just one aspect of course of the toxins we are all exposed to on a daily basis from the environment, our homes, and the products we use.  So by decreasing the toxins that we put in and at the same time increasing the amounts of minerals, vitamins and nutrients we put in, we can improve overall health and well-being.
 
However, even eating organic does not provide for the lack of trace minerals and elements in modern soil, you can read more on this issue in the following article - Demineralised Soils and their Impact on Health
 
And let us not forget that by choosing organic, you can help with the environmental challenges that we face today and in the future.
 
The following statements about the benefits of organic food are acceptable under the British Code of Advertising.
 
 
Animal welfare
  • No system of farming has higher levels of animal welfare standards than organic farms working to Soil Association standards.
  • Organic farming has the potential to offer the very highest standards of animal welfare. Compassion in World Farming believes that the Soil Association’s welfare standards are leaders in the field.” (Joyce d’Silva, Director, Compassion in World Farming.)
  • The Soil Association believes there are no better standards for animal welfare than organic standards - in many instances they show an improvement over conventional standards. 1
  • The Soil Association believes that no chickens or eggs are produced to higher standards than those with the Soil Association organic symbol.
  • Soil Association chickens are truly free range, generally spending more of their lives roaming outside, in smaller flocks, with more space in their houses, and better access to fresh grass and air than non-organic chickens.
 
Vitamins and minerals
  • No food has higher amounts of beneficial minerals, essential amino acids and vitamins than organic food.
  • The use of synthetic fertilisers, plant breeding, and longer delays between harvesting and consumption have led to reduced trace element and vitamin content in food. 2
 
Pesticides
  • The best method of reducing exposure to potentially harmful pesticides would be to consume organically grown food, where their use is avoided 3
  • "Consumers who wish to minimise their dietary pesticide exposure can do so with confidence by buying organically grown foods" (US scientists). 4
  • "Consumption of organic produce represents a relatively simple means for parents to reduce their children’s pesticide exposure" (US scientists). 5
  • The Rt. Hon Clare Short MP says that "over the last half-century, agriculture has been transformed through the intensive use of agrochemicals. The inputs have helped to increase food production, but the cost has been high - unacceptable health and environmental damage." 6
  • Looking at the bioaccumulative pesticides used in non-organic farming, the British Medical Association say that due to the manner in which pesticide residues are stored in fatty tissues they may remain in the body for several years, and there is concern regarding possible neurobehavioural and neurotoxic effects, mutagenicity, teratogenicity, carcinogenicity, and allergic and other immuno-regulatory disorders. 7
  • Under Soil Association standards only four chemicals are allowed in sprays on organic crops - 430 are allowed on non-organic crops. As a result, organic foods contain fewer pesticide residues and fewer ‘cocktails’ of chemicals than non-organic food, including 'conservation grade' food or food from 'integrated pest management’ farming. 4
  • Some pesticides are endocrine disrupters.2
 
 
Additives
  • Some chemical additives that preserve food, or add colour or flavouring, affect individual well being, for example, tartrazine food colouring is linked with hyperactivity. 2
  • Only 32 of the 290 food additives approved for use across the EU are permitted in organic food. The controversial additives aspartame, tartrazine and hydrogenated fats are banned in organic food. Therefore a wide range and large quantity of potentially allergenic or harmful additives are avoided on a diet high in organically grown foods. 8
 
Antibiotics
  • "Prophylactic and regular use of antibiotics is not permitted in organic standards for animal husbandry. There is growing concern that antibiotic residues in meat and dairy products could result in the development of antibiotic resistance in bacteria that are prevalent in humans, thereby reducing the effectiveness of antibiotics used to treat human disease" (World Health Organisation). 9
  • Antibiotic additives routinely added to animal food to speed animal growth are linked with bacterial resistance in humans to the same or closely related antibiotics.3
 
 
Fats
  • No hydrogenated fats are allowed in organic food.
  • Eating organic food allows people to avoid hydrogenated fats completely.
  • The UK Food Standards Agency says that "trans fats have no known nutritional benefits and because of the effect they have on blood cholesterol they increase the risk of coronary heart disease. Evidence suggests that the effects of trans fats are worse than saturated fats". 10
  • When hydrogenated fats are made, trans fats are created too.
  • The US National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine says that there is no safe level of trans fat consumption and that consumers should consume as little as possible of products containing this substance.11
  • Organic standards require that cattle be fed on predominantly forage-based diets. Research suggests that a diet high in forage rather than grain reduces the saturated fatty acid concentrations and enhances the content of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in beef. 12, 13
 
GM
  • The use of GM ingredients is prohibited by organic standards laid down by European law.
  • Buy organic food – it is the only way you can be sure of avoiding GM through legally enforceable standards and independent inspection.
 
Wildlife, environment and jobs
  • Overall organic farming supports more farmland wildlife than non-organic farming. 14
  • The Sustainable Development Commission believes that “organic certification represents ‘the gold standard’ for sustainable food production." 15
  • The Government, their statutory advisors (English Nature, the Environment Agency) and NGOs, including the RSPB, say in the Organic Action Plan that organic farming has environmental benefits. The government stated that organic farming is better for wildlife, causes lower pollution from sprays, produces less carbon dioxide and less dangerous wastes, has high animal welfare standards and increases jobs in the countryside. 16
 
Sources

1. Key references: M. Hovi , A. Sundrum , S.M. Thamsborg (2003) ‘Animal health and welfare in organic livestock production in Europe: current state and future challenges.’ Livestock Production Science, Vol 80, 1-2, 41-53; M. Hovi (2003) ‘Animal health and welfare in organic livestock production.’ State Veterinary Journal, Vol 13, No 1. Defra; Email from Malla Hovi to Peter Melchett, 6 Jan 2005. Supplementary references: Woodward L (2005) ‘Talking Point’, Farmers Weekly. April 29-May 5 2005; Defra Organic Action Plan
2. The King’s Fund, an independent medical charity.
3. (Professor Vyvyan Howard, University of Liverpool). Vyvyan Howard MB. ChB. PhD. FRCPath. Developmental Toxico-Pathology Research Group, University of Liverpool.
4. Baker BP, Benbrook CM, Groth E, and Benbrook KL (2002) Pesticide residues in conventional, IPM-grown and organic foods: Insights from three U.S.data sets. Food Additives and Contaminants, Volume 19, No. 5, May 2002, p. 427-446.
5. Curl CL , RA Fenske and K Elgethun (2003)Organophosphorus pesticide exposure of urban and suburban pre-school children with organic and conventional diets. Environmental Health Perspectives, October 13, 2002.
6. Rt. Hon Clare Short MP (2003) Foreward, Silent invaders: pesticides, livelihoods and women’s health. Jacobs M & Dinham B (Eds.). Zed Books, London & New York. p. viii – x.
7. BMA (1992) The BMA guide to pesticides, chemicals and health, Report of the board of science and education.
8. Balch JF & Balch PA (1997) Prescription for Nutritional Healing, 2nd Edition, Avery publishers, USA.
9. World Health Organisation (1997) ‘Antibiotic use in food producing animals must be curtailed to prevent increased resistance in humans’, press release WHO/73, 20 October 1997.
11. National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine, (2002) Letter Report on Dietary Reference Intakes for Trans Fatty Acids: FDA's Next Steps. National Academy of Sciences.
12. Warren, H., Scollan, N.D., Hallett, K., Enser, M., Richardson, I, Nute, G and Wood, J.D. (2002). The effects of breed and diet on the lipid composition and meat quality of bovine muscle. Proceedings of the 48th International Congress of Meat Science and Technology, Rome.
13. R & H Hall (1999) The quality of meat from beef cattle: is it influenced by diet? Technical bulletin issue No. 4 ~ 1999. http://www.rhhall.ie/print/issue4_1999.html.
14. Bengstsson J, Ahnstrom J, Weibull AC (2005) ‘The effects of organic agriculture on biodiversity and abundance: a meta-analysis’, Journal of Applied Ecology, 42, 2, 261-269; Hole D G, Perkins A J, Wilson J D, Alexander I H, Grice P V and Evans A D (2005) ‘Does organic farming benefit biodiversity?’, Biological Conservation, 122; 113-130
15. Jonathan Porritt, chairman of the Sustainable Development Commission, in Levitt-Therivell (2005) Sustainability implications of the Little Red Tractor scheme. Report for the Sustainable Development Commission
16. DEFRA (2002) Action plan to develop organic food and farming in England. Crown copyright 2002. PB 7380.
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