What is organic food?
Organic foods are those that are produced without the use of man-made chemicals, this includes certain fertilisers, pesticides and additives, and without the use of any genetically modified organisms or products. So organic products can still be produced using chemicals that keep pests away, and promote growth but these chemicals are all natural, none are artificial. Some organic produce may even be grown using no chemicals at all.
Typically organically grown food is more expensive, and this in part may be due to the fact that organic farms tend to produce lower yields. A meta-analysis by the journal Nature found that organic farms can have a 34% lower yield when conventional and organic farming systems are most comparable1.
It is also a common misconception that organic foods are healthier than conventionally grown produce, perhaps because of their increased price tag, yet the means by which organic food is grown does not mean the food is any better nutritionally2, therefore it is no better for you from a health perspective.
There have been some studies that have found levels of phosphorus to be greater in organic produce, however phosphorus intake in the UK is not of any concern, with the majority of the population receiving sufficient levels of the mineral in the diet3. Understandably some consumers prefer to purchase organic foods as generally they are more environmentally friendly, with fewer chemicals being used on land and therefore less running into our rivers and other water sources. Interestingly however the levels of pesticides of all foods tended to fall within the safe limits of pesticide use2.
There are 9 government approved UK organic control bodies, and farmers can be registered with any of these in order for their produce to be branded organic. Organic farms are subject to regular inspection, more so than conventional farms, to ensure they are continually adhering to their code of practice.
- The UK is Europe's biggest consumer of organic food - but only 5% is grown in the UK. Some of it is transported thousands of miles
- It is not only fruit and vegetables that can be grown organically, but meat and milk can be produced organically as well, therefore a variety of dairy products can be organic
- Research into public perceptions has found that many believe organic foods to be healthier and of better quality than conventionally produced foods, yet this is not the case4
1Seufert, V et al. 2012. Comparing the yields of organic and conventional agriculture. Nature. 458, pp.229-232.
2Brandt, M. 2012. Little evidence of health benefits from organic foods, study finds. Stanford Medicine News Center. [Online] accessed 04/09/17 at https://med.stanford.edu/news
3EUFIC. 2013. Organic food and farming: Scientific facts and consumer perceptions. EUFIC. [Online] accessed 04/09/17 at http://www.eufic.org
4BBC News. 2010. Just what does organic mean? [Online] accessed 04/09/17 at http://news.bbc.co.uk