Welcome to my zone 9a habitat garden near Houston, Texas.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Organic or non-organic? That is the question

Have you been following the brouhaha that erupted last week with the publication of a new report that indicates that there is little nutritional difference between foods raised organically and those raised with human-manufactured fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, and fungicides? Researchers from Stanford University completed the study that found that there truly was not a significant difference between foods raised organically and those raised with conventional methods, based solely on the health benefits of the foods.

They could not find any strong evidence in the research that indicated that organic foods are more nutritious or that they carry fewer health risks than the conventional alternatives. Though consumption of organic foods can certainly reduce one's exposure to pesticides, that did not seem to be a significant consideration. 

In recent years, the popularity of organic products has skyrocketed in the United States, with many consumers convinced that these are the more healthful alternatives, but this latest research confirms that the body really cannot tell the difference between a vitamin that comes from an organically-grown carrot and one that is grown using more conventional methods. Part of the perception that organic products are better for you seems to be based on the fact that, in general, they cost more. In the mind of the consumer, pricier equals better and better for you. Pointing out that this is not necessarily true was bound to get a strong reaction from those consumers. And it did.

As a gardener, I try to stick to organic methods as closely as possible, although I am not obsessive about it, and I admit that I do occasionally use something like Miracle-Gro or Roundup, but never any pesticides. I actually use these products less and less frequently because I find that as I adhere more stringently to organic methods, I need them less and less frequently. 

But my reason for gardening organically has little to do with the nutritional benefits. Having grown up on a farm, I think I always pretty well accepted that a carrot is a carrot is a carrot and it doesn't matter so much to my body whether it is organic or not. No, my reasons for wanting to be organic have always had to do with the impact on the environment. After all, there is more to be considered than just the nutritional benefits of the crops grown. There is also the effect of the gardening or farming practices on the ecology of the area. Man-made pesticides, fungicides, antibiotics, and fertilizers can have devastating effects as they leach into the food chain. 

To give just one example of this effect, birds, amphibians, and reptiles eat insects that have been poisoned by pesticides and it becomes part of their bodies. It may lower their resistance to disease and affect their ability to reproduce, as well as often causing birth defects and a lessened ability to survive in the offspring. These animals are eaten by the mammals that prey on them and so the chemicals are passed on and soon the whole ecosystem is poisoned and changed, perhaps beyond repair. For me, preventing this outcome is the best reason to avoid using non-organic chemicals.  

So, as the studies show that there is little nutritional difference to the human body between foods produced organically and those produced non-organically, it really won't have any effect on my gardening practices or on my consumer practices, because the best reason for being organic has nothing to do with my nutrition. It has to do with the protection of the web of life on Earth. 


  1. Hiya,

    I read this study.. and my response was this: My brain/senses can tell the difference in seconds. Each time I visit my friends who are growing something in the garden they stop and pick out a ripe one.. and either eat it right there or take it home and use it in a meal just a hour or two later.

    The taste is incredible! Also home grown seems to last longer when stored (in my fridge).. and then there is the same thing it just tastes much better! This was one bumper 'mater and cuke and pepper year!
    Brussel sprouts and eggplant and basil too!

    Glad to read you still enjoy Coral Nymph salvia that I passed onto you last fall!


    1. The 'Coral Nymph' has become a favorite and I agree that home-grown is always best and freshest, whether it is organic or conventionally grown. But I prefer organic for the reasons I stated.

  2. Well said! I've also tried to keep an organic garden/yard since I started gardening, and especially since I've started mixing edibles in the landscape. The thought of powerful herbicides and pesticides leaching into the landscape and storm drains is a bit scary, especially ones that don't break down organically. This year I didn't even bust out any of the organic pesticides (Neem) to deal with various pest troubles: too many bees and butterflies might be affected. I'm coming around to the "right plant, right place" philosophy (lots of natives), with some compost mixed in.

    I like to think this study will show more beneficial results from organic eating another 10-20 years down the line (these standards haven't been in place that long). But even that few seconds of wondering whether to buy the regular or more expensive organic produce gets consumers to think about where the food comes from...and that can only be a good thing, right?

    1. Absolutely, Amy. I think knowledge and being an informed consumer can never be a bad thing. And if we have the information, I think we usually will make good decisions.

  3. The study did not take into account the devastating effect of Round-Up released on the environment and animals/people who eat the GMO crops bred to tolerate it. It can cause cancer and also sterility in animals.


    I get tempted to end my weed problems with herbicides but the possible effects are too scary.

    1. None of the effects of chemical pesticides and herbicides on the environment can honestly be said to be good. Both in the long term and the short term they are deleterious.