Choosing to eat organic instead
By Carly Sitzer
Much like going green, eating organic seems like one of those trends that recently emerged to become popular and mainstream in society. However, organic food is more than just a fad or a recent addition to our diets: Organic food, as we know it today, first rose to popularity in the 1970s when agricultural experts first began to realize that the chemicals used to “enhance” the food we eat can be detrimental to not only the environment but also to our health.
But what exactly makes food organic? According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, “Organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic sludge, bioengineering or ionizing radiation.” In layman’s terms, the animals and plants that are ultimately used to become organic food aren’t given additional products to their diet—products that the consumer ultimately eats.
The next question is whether organic food is actually better for people’s health and their general well-being. While the USDA clearly states that they make no claims that organically produced food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced foods, there has been research proven to show the drawbacks of chemically enhancing food.
Modern pesticides have been used in agriculture since 1939, when Swiss chemist Paul Hermann Müller discovered that DDT (also known in the science world as dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) could be used as an insecticide—a discovery that later won him a Nobel Prize in 1948. However, this achievement was challenged in 1962 when biologist and writer Rachel Carson published her book Silent Spring, which argued that the use of DDT was harming not only the wildlife (birds in particular) that ate the pesticide-ridden food, but also to the humans that consumed it as well. In 1972, the use of DDT was banned, as a result of Silent Spring: Many people also believe that this book led to the pro-organic activism against pesticides.
In current times, pesticide supporters argue that it’s needed to maintain produce prices at a low cost to keep an ample and affordable supply of fruits and vegetables on the market. However, pesticides are, by definition, chemicals, and therefore when consumed in large quantities can be harmful to human’s health. In 2006, research published in Environmental Health Perspectives compared the presence of pesticides in elementary school-aged children on their regular diet and then after strictly following a diet consisting of organically grown fruits and vegetables. The chemicals in question were organophosphorus pesticides; overexposure to these chemicals can physically manifest as nausea, headaches, twitching, trembling and on a more extreme scale, developmental or reproductive problems.
The study found that after eating organically, the presence of pesticides was significantly lower—therefore suggesting that diet is the main cause for presence of pesticides in children’s lives.
Similarly, another controversy that’s recently surfaced with food and health is the popularity of hormones used on animals. Hormones have been used since 1930 to help promote faster growth in young animals. However, the hormones used on animals are then transferred to the consumer when he or she eats the meat that was altered.
One of those hormones used is Bovine Somatotropin, which enables the growth of young cattle and encourages milk production. Research conducted by the Wisconsin Farmers Union and the National Farmers Union found that Bovine Somatotropin had drawbacks for both the animals and humans that consumed it. The animals were malnourished because too many nutrients were going into the milk that was produced.
Studies have found correlations between high levels of Insulin Growth Factor-1 (which is present in Bovine Somatotropin) and levels of colon and breast cancer—although they are still researching if there’s a link between consuming milk with IGF-1 and the presence of cancer. Additionally, there is been research currently being conducted on the link between hormone-ridden chicken consumption and early puberty in girls. Organic meat, however, is made from animals that are free of all hormones and follow a diet of vegetables that are pesticide-free as well.
In general, organic food is more expensive than regular food, which keeps a lot of people from choosing to eat organically. The reason for this drive in price is because without the aid of hormones, pesticide and other chemicals, it’s more time-consuming to care for the plants and the animals. However, the overall health benefits that organic eating offers can pay off in the end—it’s better to pay for the more expensive food rather than pay for the medical bills later.
Carly Sitzer is a freshman journalism major who likes her squash with a healthy dose of antibiotics. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.