Organic food has seen a surge in popularity as the sweeping public and professional opinion is that it is healthier than conventional food. What we know is that there are many advantages of organic food, both obvious and not-so-obvious. Some organic food benefits are solely about you and your family, some are about others, and some are about the environment. For any person concerned in these areas, organic food is certainly worth thinking about.
Organic food refers to the way agricultural products are grown and processed. Organic crops must be grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes (GMOs), petroleum-based fertilisers, and sewage sludge-based fertilisers.
Organic livestock raised for meat, eggs, and dairy products must have access to the outdoors and be given organic feed. They may not be given antibiotics, growth hormones, or any animal-by-products.
There’s no doubt that organic food can be more expensive than conventional food in Singapore. Most organic food in Singapore is imported (as is a lot of conventional foods), and in some stores, an organic label can add 30% to the price. Certified organic products have many reasons for this added cost, including:
The good news is that as demand for organic food and products increases and technological innovations improve, these costs should all be reduced, making organic food far more affordable. In other words, be part of the change and watch as increased demand lowers the price of the food you love.
There are two main safety issues regarding conventional food: chemical contamination and bacterial contamination. In animal studies, many of the chemicals used in conventional food have been shown to cause endocrine and reproductive problems, birth defects, behaviour changes, asthma and cancer. To protect the public from exposure to high levels of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals used in conventional food, there are rules in place, but many health advocates argue that levels are still too high for human consumption, especially for young children.
There is also widespread use of low-dose antibiotics on conventional animal farms, which help animals grow faster without increasing their feed. This has contributed to the growth of antibiotic resistance and, subsequently, an increase in antibiotic-resistant foodborne illnesses that are difficult to treat.
Chemical contamination and bacterial contamination are areas for concern surrounding diet, and organic food alleviates the fear associated with such contamination.
A 2014 study into organic fruit and vegetables at Newcastle University concluded that in organic food, quantities of antioxidants, which help prevent cancer and heart disease as well as boost immunity, are between 19% and 69% higher than conventional fruit and vegetables.
In 2016, a European study found that organic dairy contains higher levels of omega-3 fats, some up to 50% higher. This is not surprising, given that organically reared, free-range animals roam more so are less fat.
Since organic produce isn’t protected by pesticides, organic fruits and vegetables must protect themselves from insect attack. They do this by ramping up production of their own chemical defenses, which translates directly into flavour and aroma. Essentially, organic plants that suffer from insect attack can accumulate higher levels of flavour chemicals and other protective molecules, including antioxidants. To put it plainly: more fight means heartier plants, which in turns creates more flavour and nutrition.
Organic produce is usually fresher and more local too, which all adds to a much deeper flavour.
There are so many positives when it comes to organic farming practices. Some of these positives include:
Sustainability over the long term: Organic farming aims to produce food while establishing an ecological balance to prevent soil fertility or pest problems.
Healthier soil:Soil building practices such as crop rotations, intercropping, symbiotic associations, cover crops, organic fertilisers (compost, animal manure etc) and minimum tillage are central to organic practices. These encourage soil fauna and flora, improve soil formation and structure, and create more stable systems.
Water: Organic farming greatly reduces the risk of groundwater pollution and in some areas where pollution is a known problem, organic farming has shown a restorative effect.
Air and climate change: Organic agriculture reduces non-renewable energy use by decreasing agrochemical needs. It also contributes to mitigating the greenhouse effect and global warming through its ability to sequester carbon in the soil.
Biodiversity:The maintenance of natural areas within and around organic fields as well as the absence of chemical inputs create suitable habitats for wildlife.
Animal welfare improves with organic farming because there is an increase in free-range, pasture-led rearing and because organic farmers are committed to farming in ways that are kinder to animals. All animals in organic systems must live as naturally as possible, so this means no battery cages, sow crates and standing-room only pens, or any other forms of close confinement. Animals move freely and eat foods that come naturally to them.
With all this in mind (and these are just some of the benefits!), it’s clear to see that yes, organic food is gaining popularity for a reason. Food produced with organically farmed ingredients are superior to conventional foods in almost every way, and are significantly healthier for you, your family, and the environment. That doesn’t mean you have to run off and replace every ingredient in your fridge or pantry with organic ones, but it’s definitely worth bearing in mind next time you shop.
Choose organic and not only will you taste the difference, you’ll reap the benefits too.