The term organic food refers to set of food grown in the natural environment without using any chemicals such as fertilizers or pesticides (Guthman 3). Additionally, they reach the consumers in original state without adding any preservatives to prolong their lives or add flavor. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a certification program that must be met by the farmers before their produce is declared an organic. Farm produce that meets the certification criteria is allowed to USDA seal. However, they must note the category of their product based on three descriptions provided by USDA. The three description include 100 percent organic (for single-ingredient foods like fruits, vegetables or meat), Organic (multi-ingredient produce with 95 percent certified organic component), made with organic and organic ingredients (USDA). Even though there is increasing advocacy for the use of organic foods, they have both advantages and disadvantages. This paper looks into pros and cons of using organic foods.
Benefits
Organic food do not contain any harmful pesticide or any additive thus making them safe for human consumption compared to other foods (Reganold and Wachter 15221). One of the requirements for certification by the US Agriculture Department is that for a food to be considered organic the farmer must not use a chemical from planting to harvesting. Pesticides and herbicides used in controlling insects, rodents, weeds, and fungus among others are not only harmful to the pests or weed but also human. More often than not these chemicals find their way on our tables hence presenting dangers to the consumers. Some of the adverse effects of pesticides include acute toxicity which can result to irritation of the respiratory tract, nausea, skin irritation, headache and allergic sensitization among others (Kim, Kabir and Jahan 530). These effects are likely to be experienced during spraying or within 48 hours. Pesticides also have chronic or long-term toxicity which can cause asthma, Parkinson’s disease and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) among others (Kim, Kabir and Jahan 533). Additionally, some chemicals used in making the pesticides contain endocrine disruptors that can affect the normal body functioning.
Secondly, organic foods do not contain antibiotics that adversely affect the human body immune system. In non-organic farming, farmers use antibiotics and other chemicals to treat their animals or protect them from infections. When a person consumes the animal the antibiotics are likely to find their way into his or her system. Some of these antibiotics result in resistant bacteria presenting a new challenge on human-disease control. Such situations are avoidable by consuming organic food that does not contain any antibiotic or drug-resistant bacteria.
Thirdly, organic farming has a minimal environmental impact compared to the conventional farming. Conventional farming has a significant contribution to the environmental degradation through pollution. In an agricultural setup, pollution takes place in various forms depending on the nature and size of the farm. One of the environmental impacts of using chemicals in the farms is soil degradation. Chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides have adverse effects on the soil composition. For example, inorganic fertilizers cause groundwater pollution through leaching (Reganold and Wachter). Leaching also results in the creation of hardpan in the subsoil which in turn affects the soil’s capillarity and air circulation.
Additionally, excess use of chemical alters the pH depending on the type of fertilizer. For example, using nitrogenous fertilizers over long period raises the soil pH making it unsuitable to support most crops. Further, soil micro-organisms cannot live in acidic environment hence their death which adversely affects the soil aeration, consequently, the soil becomes unproductive for agricultural activities. Besides soil, water pollution also occurs as the chemicals used in the farms get swept to the water sources. Pesticides and herbicides also cause air pollution around the farms which adversely affect the workers and other organisms.
On the other hand, organic farming uses environmental friendly manure which neither pollutes the soil nor water bodies. Manure is organic materials too and creates a favorable for soil microorganisms to operate thus increasing the soil aeration. Moreover, the cost of organic fertilizers is lower resulting in lower cost of production. In an event where the farmer is practicing mixed farming, he or she can obtain the manure from the animals on the farm.
Fourthly, organic farming plays an important in protecting the environmental biodiversity by limiting environmental pollution (Luna, Javier, and Cerretti). The biggest threat to the existence of plants and animals species is the use of farm chemicals that find their way into the natural habitat. For example, water population results in the death of aquatic life whereas herbicides and pesticides kill plants and animal species respectively. Organic foods are produced in a condition that promotes natural environmental balance.
Organic foods also have high nutritional value compared to other foodstuffs. Unlike produce from conventional farming, organic food has a high concentration of antioxidants among other nutrients. Antioxidants help in cell protection hence lowering the risks of contracting cardiovascular and Alzheimer’s diseases. Organic milk has nearly double the content of omega-3 fatty acids than non-organic once. The latter might also contain traces of chemicals used when to treat the cow while lactating.
Disadvantages
One of the primary disadvantages of organic foods is they are expensive compared to other foodstuffs. The demand for organic food is high compared to the production which in turn leads to higher prices. Stringent measures by the USDA for one to acquire certification to produce these foods makes it difficult for many farmers to venture into this field. Additionally, it is relatively expensive to run an organic farm in large-scale as controlling pests and herbs using organic methods is expensive. The labor-intensive nature of organic farming makes it nearly impossible to carry out on a large scale which in turn leads to low market supply.
Secondly, organic food can easily get contaminated with Escherichia coli, a bacterium found in the animal’s intestines. Producing organic foods require that a farmer uses manure as opposed to chemical fertilizers. Manure is made from either compost or animal wastes; the latter is likely to contain the bacteria. E. coli can cause food poisoning hence considerable threat to the user (Fuentes, Morente and Abriouel 11). Further, use of non-chemical agents in the storage of these foods means any other contamination during harvesting or packaging is likely to reach to the system of the user.
Thirdly, organic food also does not have a long shelf life as they rot relatively fast. Food wastage is currently one of the global problems with Food and Agricultural Organization estimating a third going to waste annually (FAO). In this context, food loss refers to the decrease of the food along the supply chain from the point of production to consumption (FAO). The perishable nature of organic foods means large-scale production is limited since the farmers would face losses occasioned by rot during harvesting and transportation to the market. Perhaps, the risks of going to wastes are among the reasons most farmers are shying away from organic farming despite the ready market.
Finally, organic are scarce and hardly available in most food stores across the country. The first challenge that one must pass through before consuming these foods is to literally search for them across different stores in the country. This scarcity is due to limited production capacity by farmers and high demand. Additionally, the stringent measures for certification by US Agriculture Department makes it difficult for farmers to venture into organic farming hence limited production capacity. Further, the high cost of running farms makes it impossible for farmers with limited capital to venture into it. Consequently, the production of organic products remains low compared to the high market demands making them not only expensive but also unavailable.
Conclusion
There is a need for the government through the department of agriculture to promote the production of organic foods since they a lot of benefits compared to the conventional produce. Some of the benefits include high nutritional value, do not contain any antibiotics, less harmful and promote the conservation of environmental biodiversity. On the other hand, the disadvantages include possible contamination from E.coli bacteria, a high cost of production, highly perishable and scarcity. Interestingly, the disadvantages of these foods rise from production and storage with nothing to do with their quality. Factors like cost of production and scarcity can be addressed through government investment and incentives.
References
FAO. Food Loss and Food Waste. 2018. www.fao.org/food-loss-and-food-waste/en/. 18 May 2018.
Fuentes, Miguel Ángel Fernández, et al. “Antimicrobial resistance determinants in antibiotic and biocide-resistant gram-negative bacteria from organic foods.” Food Control 37 (2014): 9-14.
Guthman, Julie. Agrarian dreams: The paradox of organic farming in California. Vol. 11. Univ of California Press, 2014.
Kim, Ki-Hyun, Ehsanul Kabir and Shamin Ara Jahan. “Exposure to pesticides and the associated human health effects.” Science of The Total Environment 575 (2017): 525-535.
Luna, Inclán, et al. “Organic farming enhances parasitoid diversity at the local and landscape scales.” (2015).
Reganold, John and Jonathan M. Wachter. “Organic agriculture in the twenty-first century.” Nature Plant 2.2 (2016): 15221.
USDA. USDA Organic. 2018. https://www.usda.gov/topics/organic. 18 May 2018.