By Zoe Bradbury
It’s not uncommon nowadays to be bombarded with “organic” labels on food and produce as soon as one enters a supermarket, marketed as the superior healthier option.
And according to the 2019 Australian Organic Market Report, Australia’s organic industry is worth AUD $2.6 billion, a number that continues to rise every year. Globally, the organic industry is estimated at USD $97 billion dollars.
But what stops a lot of people from making the switch is the associated price tag. With reports suggesting organic food is often 60 per cent more expensive than conventional produce, is it worth the splurge?
Further, 49 per cent of shoppers listed personal health as the primary reason for choosing to purchase organic products, but is it actually healthier?
Bondi Beauty investigates.
It’s a commonly held belief that organic produce contains less chemicals than their conventional counterparts.
In order to be classified as “organic”, produce and crops must be free from any synthetic pesticides or chemicals.
Yet it’s also beneficial to realise that Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ), which regulates the marketing and production of all food products, has strict maximum residue limits.
This provides a legal limit as to the amount of chemical or pesticide residues in all food products. Further, the level is well below the maximum that could cause health and safety risks.
So, while organic food may be labelled as completely chemical free, regular fresh produce is also monitored to ensure that pesticide limits are well below the maximum levels that could pose a health risk.
Organic farmers are not allowed to use phosphorous fertiliser or water-soluble nitrogen, which is manufactured by using fossil fuels.
According to organic farming expert Professor Carlo Leifert from Southern Cross University, using these has negative environmental impacts, such as releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As such, organic produce can be seen as limiting these negative impacts, through the use of renewable energy.
In addition, other benefits of organic farming are said to include greater biodiversity, better soil health and soil fertility, as well as long-term sustainability, says the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
If organic food is said to be better for one’s health, it can be frustrating when the price tag is significantly more.
A 2016 report conducted by the Department of Agriculture revealed that fresh organic products, such as milk, eggs and green vegetables, can cost 60 per cent more than non-organic alternatives.
Usually, this price increase is because the labour-process is more intensive and must be separated from non-organic processes. Additionally, according to organic.org, it takes three years for a farmer to convert their land to organic status, which involves increasing the fertility of the land. For the first two years, any crops produced cannot be labelled as organic.
As a result, organic farms are usually smaller than conventional farms that can mass-produce products, meaning the price increases to cover the excess costs.
Consuming fewer synthetic chemicals and pesticides is obviously beneficial for the body, according to Professor of health services at RMIT, Marc Cohen, who says its “common-sense” that “eating less poison is good for you.”
However, to date there has been no scientific proof or studies completed that concretely says organic food is healthier or more nutritionally dense than non-organic food.
And while some studies have claimed organic produce has higher levels of antioxidants, vitamin C and certain minerals, WebMD highlights that the difference is so small, it’s likely to have little impact on overall health in the long term.
So, while there is little proof that organic food has a higher nutritional value, the practices used in organic farming can be seen as better for the environment. Whether this warrants the price tag has to be an individual choice.
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