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Is Organic Food Really More Sustainable?
Blog...Is Organic Food Really More Sustainable?

Is Organic Food Really More Sustainable?

Ecology News
produce stand
In this article, we’ll explain the pros and cons of organic food, the sustainability of organic food, the difference between organic and conventional food, and if it really matters if good is organic.
Ecology News
produce stand

These days, trendy grocery stores in the U.S. such as Whole Foods, Thrive Market, and Erewhon have placed a dramatic emphasis on high quality, organic food with sustainable packaging – which in turn, has caused many of us to question the true importance of organic food.

Organic food refers to either fresh produce or processed foods that have been made without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). 

However, is it really necessary to purchase organic food to be more sustainable?

In this article, we’ll explain the pros and cons of organic food, the sustainability of organic food, the difference between organic and conventional food, and if it really matters if food is organic.

What is organic food?

Organic food qualifies as produce, processed snacks, frozen meals, and more which have been made without the use of pesticides, GMOs, or synthetic fertilizers.

It is important to note that not all organic food is bound to be 100% pesticide free, but it will use significantly less pesticides than non-organic produce.
the rise of organic usda organic

Many people often associate organic food with health – with sales for organic food in the U.S. alone rising by 12.4% in 2020. In fact, studies show that many people will purchase organic food under the notion it is healthier for them – even if they don’t fully understand the “organic food” label.

The process of making organic food, especially in order to receive the official USDA organic label, requires a certification process where the amount of organic ingredients is calculated to provide the product with the appropriate organic label.

There are four different labels used by the USDA to classify organic food:

  • 100% organic food which means the food is made with all organic ingredients
  • Organic food which means that no more than 5% of the ingredients can be non-organic
  • “Made with” organic ingredients which means that the food is made with at least 70% of certified organic ingredients
  • Specific organic ingredients which refers to food items made with less than 70% of organic ingredients

👉 Ultimately, organic food is a term used to help classify produce and packaged food items that have undergone sufficient effort to support ecological balance, biodiversity, and reduce their overall environmental impact.

cherry tomatoes in bowl

What are the pros and cons of organic food?

There are several pros and cons to purchasing organic food. For instance, organic food may be better for the environment and be better for your health, but as a result – organic food is often more expensive and less accessible as opposed to non-organic food. 

Organic food is often viewed as the more healthful alternative to non-organic food, but the issue with organic food is that we haven’t consumed them long enough as humans to determine if there is a tangible difference in our health long-term as a result of eating organic foods.

Grocery stores such as Whole Foods and Erewhon have brought a whole new meaning to organic food. This is because once Amazon purchased Whole Foods, it allowed Prime Customers to order products from Whole Foods with ease – causing a newfound burst of interest in the benefits and niche products provided under the organic food label. 

💡 Ultimately, Amazon and Whole Foods created a new environment which made organic food products more accessible and affordable.

doritos vs organic chips

For many, deciding whether or not to bite the bullet and buy organic foods will come down to affordability, accessibility, and personal preference. Let’s break down the pros and cons of organic food.

Some of the benefits of buying organic food include:

  • More Ethical – Organic food is made without GMOs or other synthetic chemicals, making it the smarter choice for those looking to avoid overly processed products. 
  • Protect Animals – Oftentimes, farms that seek to produce organic eggs, meat, or poultry will treat animals better – letting them live free-range or through other organic farming tactics.
  • Fresher Taste – Since organic food avoids the use of pesticides and other preservatives, it can allow for a fresher and more wholesome taste. 

Some of the downsides to buying organic food includes:

  • More Expensive – One of the overarching reasons why many people will refrain from purchasing organic food is due to the price difference. On average, organic food can cost up to 134% more than non-organic food.
  • Potentially Little to No Health Benefits – Studies on behalf of the UK Food Standards Agency, the French Food Safety Agency and the Swedish National Food Administration have all stated that there is little evidence that eating organic food improves health.
  • Shorter Shelf-Life – Since organic food strays away from the use of preservatives, organic produce and snacks may not last as long as their non-organic counterparts.

👉 The decision to purchase organic food or non-organic food will usually boil down to your individual values and budget considerations.

coconut, limes, papaya

Does organic food mean the same thing as sustainable food?

Many will consider the terms organic food and sustainable food to be synonymous with one another, and while it is true that organic food is more likely to be sustainable as opposed to non-organic food – it isn’t always the case.

It is imperative to remember that organic food isn’t the same as organic farming – which refers to the practice of supporting bee pollination, promoting biodiversity, and working to reduce air pollution. These efforts can be made without the produce itself being considered an organic food, which is why organic food doesn’t always mean the food is sustainable.

Some other reasons why organic food may not mean sustainable food include:

  • Greater Action Beyond Tactics Used To Make Organic Food Needed – Organic farming isn’t always enough to reduce the environmental impact created by the agricultural industry, with offsets usually required to help these businesses work towards net-zero emissions.
  • Soil Degradation – No amount of organic farming for organic food can reverse the damage that has been done to surrounding soil.
  • Global Food DemandOrganic food and organic farming may help with reducing the excess emissions caused by agriculture, but it may not be conducive to harvesting the increased amount of food we need to feed a growing global population.

However, it’s true that organic food may help to boost sustainable practices – as many organic farms will work to cultivate more fertile soil, utilize renewable energy sources such as wind turbines or solar farms, implement a carbon capture and storage system, and more. As a result, organic farms may be able to reduce their energy consumption by 45% in comparison to traditional farms. 

In short, it is important to remember that the organic food label bears little meaning in terms of the company’s sustainability policies or efforts to reduce their environmental impact or become more eco-friendly.

👉At the end of the day, whether organic food is congruent or considered as sustainable food will depend on the farm and their individual agricultural practices – as some farms may grow and harvest organic food, but have other practices in place that cause harm to the environment. 

poke bowl

What is the difference between organic food and non-organic food?

There are many differences between organic food and non-organic food, such as their price tags and the process by which these two types of food are made.

Organic food is generally more expensive than non-organic food, but can help consumers by providing them with peace of mind that the food was made with an effort to avoid the use of GMOs, protect animals, and support biodiversity.

Here are some of the differences between non-organic and organic food:

  • Farming Practices – Organic food takes a more holistic approach to growing food such as by avoiding the use of pesticides and GMOs by utilizing compost and crop rotation to provide a plentiful harvest. Non-organic good, on the other hand – makes use of pesticides and chemicals to maximize the total amount of crops.
  • Animals – Organic food often requires animals to have sufficient living conditions conducive to their natural behaviors – such as with free-range chickens or grazing on a pasture for cows. Non-organic food won’t shy away from feeding animals growth hormones to lay more eggs or grow bigger for a more lucrative cut for their future butcher.
  • Preservatives – Organic food will often stray away from artificial coloring or processed ingredients, making it’s shelf-life shorter than non-organic food. 
  • Soil Erosion – Non-organic food destroys the surrounding soil with its heavy chemical use, whereas organic food does not.
  • Irradiation & Sewer Sludge –  Unlike non-organic goods, organic food will have restrictions against practices that could contribute to sewer sludge or irradiation.

👉 Overall, organic food generally abides to the health and safety for animals, people, and the planet more so than non-organic food – as the farming practices for organic food are more stringent.

dirty carrots

Ultimately, does it really matter if food is organic?

At the end of the day, organic food can make a difference in sustainability and possibly be better for your health – but it isn’t surefire that organic food is inherently sustainable. 

For instance, studies have shown that there isn’t a palpable difference in organic foods with thicker skin – such as a banana. It is more beneficial to purchase organic strawberries as opposed to an organic banana as pesticides aren’t as likely to work their way through banana skin.

While the health benefits of organic food are still questionable, the sustainability of organic food is more evident. Studies show that farms seeking to grow and harvest organic food produce 40% less carbon emissions as opposed to other agricultural sites. This is because these farms will often prioritize soil heath, avoid the use of potentially toxic pesticides, and other values depicted in climate smart farming. 

In fact, there are some other ways to reduce your carbon footprint from produce or grocery shopping that won’t involve going organic – such as by:

  • Shopping at a local grocery store or farmer’s market to ensure that your produce hasn’t traveled long distances and contributed to excess GHG emissions
  • Eating seasonally to avoid purchasing products that have been shipped to your country
  • Avoid purchasing products with single-use plastic packaging 

Ultimately, in terms of sustainability, organic food is usually more sustainable than non-organic food and has a higher chance of being farmed with sustainable practices in mind – but it’s important to remember that it isn’t always a guarantee. 

For instance, farming companies could make an effort to use sustainable packaging, reduce plastic waste, or use more eco-friendly media campaigns to reduce their carbon footprint without needing to grow organic food.

Therefore, it’s more important to look into the company and their farming practices when shopping at the grocery store as opposed to purchasing organic food with the mindset that it’s automatically more sustainable.

What About Greenly?

If reading this article about if organic food is really more sustainable has made you interested in reducing your carbon emissions to further fight against climate change – Greenly can help you!

At Greenly we can help you to assess your company’s carbon footprint, and then give you the tools you need to cut down on emissions. We offer a free demo for you to better understand our platform and all that it has to offer – including assistance with boosting supplier engagement, personalized assistance, and new ways to involve your employees.

Click here to learn more about Greenly and how we can help you reduce your carbon footprint.

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