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Many people believe organic food is better for you because not only is it produced avoiding pesticides and contains far fewer additives, but also because there is increasing evidence it contains more beneficial nutrients. A rapidly growing body of research shows organic food contains higher levels of vitamin C and essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and chromium as well as cancer fighting antioxidants and Omega 3. For example, studies show organic milk in the UK is on average 68% higher in Omega 3 essential fatty acids. It's thought this is because of the high levels of natural red clover fed to cows on organic dairy farms.
Organic farming avoids the use of pesticides, so the best way to reduce your exposure to these potentially harmful chemicals is to go organic. In non-organic farming, over 300 pesticides can be routinely used and residues are often present when tested. In the UK, over 40% of all non-organic fruit, vegetables and bread tested in 2005 contained pesticides according to the Government's Pesticide Residues Committee. The results for particular fruit and vegetables were much worse. Chemicals were found in all oranges tested, 90% of bread, 72% of grapes and 95% of pears.
When it comes to chicken and eggs, people are increasingly keen to buy freerange, but many do not realise that eggs, poultry and meat labelled organic are guaranteed to be free-range. In fact, certified organic guarantees the strictest free-range standards for poultry. This means birds are looked after in smaller flocks, they spend more of their lives roaming outside, they have better access to fresh grass and air and have more space in their houses.
In factory-farmed production, animals are often crammed in together to increase profit margins. Pigs, for example, are naturally inquisitive, and when they are penned in, boredom can lead to aggression and tail and ear biting. Therefore, they often have their teeth painfully clipped and over 80% have their tails cut off. Organic standards prohibit cruelty and guarantee truly free-range lives for farm animals.
Genetically modified (GM) crops and ingredients are banned under organic standards and organic farmers cannot feed livestock with any feed containing GM materials. Many people who would avoid GM products do not realise that some GM crops are grown in Australia, and that GM crops can be imported each year to feed non-organic livestock..
Organic products certified according to audited standards ban the routine use of antibiotics for farm animals. In non-organic farming, antibiotic additives are routinely added to animal food to combat illness spread by animals raised together in cramped conditions. Some scientists have linked these additives with bacterial resistance in humans to the same, or closely related, antibiotics.
In spite of studies linking food additives to hyperactivity and other behavioural effects in children, many additives are permitted in non-organic food. Organic standards avoid controversial additives by generally permitting only those derived from natural sources such as citric acid from lemons.
In non-organic farming many tonnes of chemicals are sprayed each year to kill weeds, insects and other pests that attack crops. Contrastingly, organic farmers rely on natural methods to manage the land. They encourage natural predators and develop nutrient-rich soil and healthy crops which have natural resistance to pests and diseases, in addition to maintaining natural habitats such as hedgerows which encourage wildlife. Unsurprisingly, studies have shown there are greater numbers and more species of birds, butterflies, beetles, bats and wild flowers on organic farms.
Research shows shoppers frequently choose organic because they believe it tastes better. This could be because organic fruit and vegetables tend to grow more slowly and have a lower water content, which may contribute to a fuller flavour.
A whopping 20% of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions come from food and farming, so choosing organic and seasonal food is a fundamental step in reducing our carbon footprint.
Adapted from: http://www.soilassociation.org/. We are grateful for permission given by the Soil Association, UK, to use its material.