1 September 2008
The term ‘organic’ refers to environmentally friendly and health supportive methods of farming and processing both animal and plant foods. Chemical pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers are generally not used except in cases where they pose no environmental danger or a health risk for the consumer.
Conventional methods of growing, processing, packaging and otherwise handling food not only destroys much of its nutritional value but also exposes the consumer to toxins and harmful chemicals. It is now generally acknowledged that the methods and materials of conventional farming are responsible for many human ailments.
Organic methods, on the other hand, provide numerous benefits, not only in terms of the quality of the product itself but also for the environment, the economy, employment, social well-being and personal health.
Instead of chemicals, the organic farmer will use crop rotation to control pest build-up and improve soil fertility, plant selected bushes and flowers to attract insects that ward off unwanted pests, and so on. It’s very much a question of blending old methods and new research and technology.
Many conventional agricultural methods expose the consumer to various kinds of toxins. These include pesticides, heavy metals and solvents. Many pesticides are now recognized as cancer-causing agents. Heavy metals (e.g. lead and mercury) damage nerve function, contribute to diseases such as multiple sclerosis and block hemoglobin production, which causes anemia. They are also believed to lower IQ. Solvents damage white blood cells, thereby weakening the body’s immune system so that it cannot resist infections and illnesses effectively.
Besides exposing consumers to toxins, these environmentally hostile methods of agriculture also substantially reduce the levels of nutrients naturally found in the foods we eat.
Thus far, studies have never been able to prove conclusively that there is a direct correlation between chemical residues in non-organic foods and the decline of human health. This, however, unfortunately doesn’t prove there is no cause for alarm. One of the biggest difficulties in conducting such a study is to find a control group – a population that is free from chemical residues – to which one can compare those who have been contaminated. No such population exists. What studies have been able to show is that we are all contaminated with chemical residues and toxins from conventionally grown and processed foods. This in itself is enough reason for anyone who wants to be healthy to avoid non-organically grown food and change to organic.
Generally when you see the term ‘organic’ on food labels you can be sure that the product had to meet certain standards laid down by the law. These standards may include prohibitions on the use of harmful synthetic substances, genetic engineering, growth hormones, irradiation, antibiotics and artificial ingredients and the application of environmentally friendly farming methods. In the case of farming for meat, poultry, eggs and dairy, the standards will cover the health and welfare of livestock. In other words, they have to be adequately fed, and they must be housed in adequate, sanitary conditions allowing for exercise, freedom of movement, and minimum stress. The standards will even cover the handling of the product – processing, preservation, packaging and even transportation methods must be environmentally friendly and supportive of health standards.
Note, however, that such descriptions on products as ‘natural’, ‘traditional’ or ‘environmentally friendly’ do not necessarily mean the product was grown or processed organically. Also, the description ‘organic’ doesn’t mean the entire product was produced organically. Read the labels carefully.
Lead has long been recognized as posing a serious threat to health, yet lead solder is still used to seal tin cans, which then deposit this poison into the food.
Babies, because of their developing organs, are probably more susceptible to toxins in foods than adults are. Some therefore believe that organic foods would be a safer, more suitable diet for them.
Consumers also need to be careful about the implements they use for cooking. Metal cookware is best avoided. Use glass cookware where available. In other words, don’t undo in the kitchen all the hard work you put into hunting for organic food in the supermarket!