Comparing organic produce to conventional fruit and vegetables is a bit like comparing a stuffed toy to the family dog. From a distance, they both look like animals but on closer inspection we realise pretty quickly that one is an artificial, manufactured product and the other one is a real, living thing.
The arguments for consuming organic foods are manifold but opposing sides, the FDA and conventional farmers have had strong support from popular media outlets of late. One of the most debated arguments in recent years is whether organic foods contain more nutrients; this has been vehemently criticised by a study from Stanford University which was widely published in American and British newspapers. “Organic food may not be worth the money” and similar headlines were screaming from front pages, declaring defeat on the alternative food movement. Since the start of the recession in 2008, sales of organic produce have in fact declined while people are still prepared to spend a little extra on fair trade and locally sourced produce.
In my opinion, there is a very strong case for buying organic foods wherever possible and the Stanford study did in fact reveal that produce grown organically is safer and probably healthier, providing you agree with the fact that ingesting fewer toxins is beneficial for health. It is common sense, or at least it gives me some satisfaction, that fruit and vegetables grown in natural, mineral rich and non-toxic soils are of better nutritional value than mass produced and intensively farmed produce. If you have ever tasted an organic carrot, fresh out of the soil, you will agree that the taste alone has to be an indication of its superior quality to a bag of pre-chopped carrot sticks.
Leaving the much debated topic of nutrient content aside, there is one compelling argument why organic foods are ALWAYS the better choice and that is the alarming use of pesticides in conventional food production. While organic farmers make use of natural fertilisers, crop rotation and hand weeding, conventional farming uses synthetic herbicides, pesticides and chemicals. 90% of fungicides, 30% of insecticides and 60% of herbicides are considered carcinogenic by the Environmental Protection Agency; we need only look at our hospitals or even at our own immediate family to realise that cancer is steeply on the rise. Sadly, it is not only the dreaded “C word” that is spreading like wildfire; artificial and chemical fertilisers have been shown to cause neurotoxicity, disruption of the endocrine system, damage to the male reproductive system and some have even been linked to miscarriages. We know that pesticides are effective in killing most insects but they could potentially be harmful to humans too.
If we consume only tiny traces of pesticides every now and then, our bodies could probably deal with their adverse effects; the modern food chain, however, is saturated with chemicals from intensive farming. A constant low (and sometimes even even high) level of exposure puts unimaginable pressure on our detoxification systems – our bodies are not designed to cope with this constant onslaught of toxins. In prehistoric times, every fruit, vegetable, berry and nut was pure and organic and that is what our bodies ideally demand. Naturally, eating some conventional produce is better than not eating any fresh vegetables at all but there are a few foods you should always aim to purchase organic.
Here is my list of the most contaminated (i.e. most pesticides used) foods, so even if you choose or are forced to buy most of your produce non-organic, make an exception for the following:
- Apples: a popular lunchbox filler but evil could be lurking on its skin…! Up to 7 different chemicals have been found on a single apple and, considering that a child’s body is even less equipped to deal with manmade toxins, this fruit should always be bought organic!
- Cantaloupe melon: a toxin called Dieldrin which was banned in 1974 because it is one of the most carcinogenic chemicals known to man is still taken up by the plant’s roots today.
- Cucumbers: this innocent vegetable turns into your worst enemy as it is considered only second in presenting the highest risk of cancer.
- Grapes: be careful where your daily tipple comes from. Chilean grapes are treated with 17 different pesticides and some South American communities have been hit by a wave of birth defects due to excessive use of herbicides.
- Green beans: 60 chemical agents are approved for use on this popular Sunday roast accompaniment.
- Spinach: considerable levels of chemicals are used in the farming of spinach, especially those that can interfere with hormone production.
- Strawberries: due to their soft skin, berries are amongst the most contaminated fruits on supermarket shelves. Often marketed as the ultimate health food, if they are not organic they might be nothing more than a chemical cocktail.
- Butter and milk: not strictly a vegetable, cows are fed a diet of grains which have been heavily treated with pesticides. Those insect killing agents show up in butter and milk, besides growth hormones and antibiotics.
- Potatoes: this humble root vegetable has been responsible for 3659 outbreaks of illness, mostly due to salmonella and E.coli – not strictly a pesticide but still a contaminant.
To end this article on a positive note in order to avoid a mass panic next time you visit the supermarket, onions, avocados, pineapple, mangoes, asparagus, cabbage and broccoli are some of the least contaminated foods – you are allowed to cut corners occasionally without being in immediate danger!