50 Interesting Facts about Organic Food

By Karin Lehnardt, Senior Writer
Published January 4, 2017
  • Organic food is food that has been grown or processed without synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, irradiation, industrial solvents, or chemical food additives.[8]
  • The organic food movement began in the 1940s in response to the Green Revolution. The Green Revolution marked a significant increase in food production due to the introduction of high-yield varieties, the use of pesticides, and better management techniques.[7]
  • Researchers note that there is not a significant difference between organic and conventional food in nutritional value, potential allergic reactions, or incidents of Campylobacter infections (a common cause of bacterial foodborne illness). Additionally, studies show that organic food does not significantly taste better than conventional food.[3]
  • According to American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) officials, there is currently no direct evidence proving that an organic diet leads to improved health or lower risk of disease. However, no large studies in humans have been conducted that specifically address the long-term benefits of an organic vs. conventional diet.[3]
  • Organic food is typically more expensive than conventional food, sometimes 50% higher than the same conventionally grown food.[7]
  • Buying locally reduces environmentally costly “food miles”
  • When organic food travels long distances to market (food miles), it creates pollution that may offset any positive environmental effects of organic farming. However, buying local food, which may or may not be grown organically, helps reduce the environmental costs associated with food miles.[8]
  • While there may not be a significant difference nutritionally between organic and conventional foods, detectable pesticide residues were found in only 7% of organic product samples compared to 38% of conventional produce samples.[5]
  • In 1990, Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA), which required the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop national standards for organically produced agricultural products.[8]
  • A civil penalty of up to $11,000 for each offense can be levied on any person who knowingly sells or labels a product as organic that is not produced and handled according to the National Organic Programs (NOP) regulations for organic food.[7]
  • The European Union, the U.S., Canada, Japan, and other countries require organic food producers to have a special certification based on government-defined standards to market food as organic.[7]
  • Pesticides may be used on organic food as long as they are not synthetic.[7]
  • Research notes that people may buy organic food based on psychological effects, such as the “halo effect.” In other words, the label “organic” can change perceptions of taste, calories, and value regardless of whether the food is organic or not.[4]
  • Organic Oreos are not a health food.

    - Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto

  • Several groups have called on organic food producers not to use nanotechnology, which is the process of manipulating matter at the atomic and molecular matter. Some nanotechnology already exists in organic products. For example, Nano Green Sciences sells a nano-pesticide they claim is “organic.” Additionally, some personal care products that are promoted as being “organic” also already contain nanoparticles.[8]
  • Conventionally grown apples, celery, sweet bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, imported nectarines, grapes, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, domestic blueberries, potatoes, green beans, kale, and other greens are among the fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticides.[1]
  • Research shows that organic milk and conventionally processed milk have similar levels of contaminants, including growth hormones. The AAP emphasizes that what is important is that children should drink pasteurized milk to reduce the risk of bacterial infection.[1]
  • Conventionally grown onions, sweet corn, pineapples, avocado, cabbage, sweet peas, asparagus, mangos, eggplant, kiwi, domestic cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, grapefruit, watermelon, and mushrooms have some of the lowest pesticide levels.[1]
  • A liter of organic milk requires 80% more land than conventional milk to produce, has 20% more global warming potential, releases 60% more nutrients into water sources, and contributes 70% more to acid rain.[10]
  • Studies have shown that pesticide levels in children’s urine were significantly lower if they ate organic diets.[1]
  • Children who eat organic foods have lower levels of pesticides in their urine
  • Organically reared cows burp up twice as much methane as conventionally reared cattle. Methane is 20 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than CO2.[9]
  • While organic potatoes use less energy in terms of fertilizer production, they need more fossil fuel for plowing.[9]
  • A hectare of conventionally farmed land produces 2½ times more potatoes than an organic one.[9]
  • DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs) estimates that organic tomato production in the UK releases almost three times the nutrient pollution and uses 25% more water per kg of fruit than normal production.[9]
  • Organic farmers can treat fungal diseases with copper solutions. The organic insecticide rotenone is highly neurotoxic to humans, does not readily biodegrade, and rotenone exposure has been linked to Parkinson’s disease.[9]
  • Conventional chicken and pork are 33% more likely to contain bacteria resistant to three or more antibiotics than organic poultry or pork are.[8]
  • Organic food labeling standards are based on the percentage of organic ingredients in a product. Products labeled “100% organic” must contain only organically produced ingredients. Products labeled “organic” must contain at least 95% organically produced ingredients. Processed products made with at least 70% organic ingredients may use the phrase “made with organic ingredients.”[8]
  • Three studies in 2011 showed that pregnant women exposed to higher amounts of organophosphate pesticides, which are used in conventional farming, ended up having children with lower IQs than those of their peers.[7]
  • Washing produce does not completely remove pesticides
  • While washing fruits and vegetables does reduce pesticide residue, some pesticides are absorbed internally in the plant and cannot be washed off. Others are formulated to bind to the surface of the crop and do not easily wash off. Peeling reduces exposure, but valuable nutrients are lost with the peel.[7]
  • Advantages of organic meat include reduced exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.[8]
  • Large studies in Holland, Denmark, and Austria found the food-poisoning bacterium Campylobacter in 100% of organic chicken flocks, but in only 1/3 of conventional flocks. These studies also found that conventional and organic food had equal rates of contamination with Salmonella and 72% of organic chickens were infected with parasites.[8]
  • While organic farmers say that they do not routinely treat their animals with antibiotics, a 2006 study found that a quarter of organic pigs had pneumonia compared to 4% of conventionally raised pigs and their piglets died twice as often.[9]
  • While organic food contains less pesticide residue, most conventional produce also has levels of residue below the threshold deemed unsafe.[8]
  • In one study, 10 pesticides were found on conventional spinach and 9 were found on celery. Bell peppers had the most, with 39 overall pesticides.[7]
  • In parts of the world where pesticide is not available, over 1/3 of the food is eaten by pests—whereas in the Western world, where pesticides are used, the loss is reduced by 41%.[7]
  • Sir John Krebs, former chairman of Britain’s Food Standards Agency, claimed in 2002 that “a single cup of coffee contains natural carcinogens equal to at least a year’s worth of synthetic carcinogenic residues in the diet.”[11]
  • Eggs labeled as organic must come from organically reared chickens. To be an organically reared chicken, the bird has to eat 80% organic food for 6 weeks prior to laying its egg. Organic eggs and chickens should not be confused with free-range chickens, which can roam freely and eat whatever they like. To conform with the organic requirements, an organic chicken is allowed 1 square meter of space per 25 pounds of chicken. A chicken can be both organic and free-range.[7]
  • Researchers worry that increased consumer demand for organic food may lead to larger farms, lowered standards for organic produce, and poorer working conditions for organic farmers.[8]
  • Increased demand for organic food may compromise the quality of organic farms
  • Organic milk is the fastest growing sector in the beverage market.[7]
  • Whole Foods is the largest retail giant in the natural food sector in the U.S with 360 stores in 40 U.S. states, Canada, and Britain. Its sales for fiscal 2012 year reached $11.7 billion.[6]
  • Whole Foods was started at the corner of 8th and Rio Grande in Austin, TX, in 1978 by self-described “free market” libertarian and now CEO, John Mackey. Originally called “Safer Way,” it grew throughout the 1990s by absorbing its competitors: Bread & Circus, Fresh Fields, Merchant of Vino, Mrs. Gooch’s, Bread of Life, and Wellspring Markets. Today, its only contenders are Wild Oats and Trader Joe’s.[6]
  • Studies have shown that incidence of cancer among conventional farmers, who are routinely exposed to relatively high levels of pesticides, are lower than in the wider population. In the past 50 years, since synthetic chemicals have come into wide use, average life expectancy has increased by more than 7 years.[12]
  • Many organic farmers tend to move away from monocultures, where crops are farmed in single-species plots. Crop rotations and mixed planting are much better for the soil and environment.[7]
  • There are over 20 chemicals commonly used in the growing and processing of organic crops that are approved by the U.S. Organic Standards. The actual use of pesticides used by organic farms is not recorded by the government. Many natural pesticides have been found to have dangerous health risks.[12]
  • Most pediatricians note that what’s more important than buying organic food is that children are eating a wide range of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat milk.[1]
  • Almost 50% of organic pesticides in Europe failed to pass the European Union’s safety evaluations.[10]
  • Organic foods tend to have higher levels of pathogens than conventionally grown ones because manure is used to fertilize them. For example, E. coli was found in 10% of produce from organic farms, but in only 2% from conventional farms.[12]
  • A conventionally grown apple may be sprayed up to 16 times with over 30 different chemicals.[7]
  • Currently, 800 million people suffer from hunger and malnutrition worldwide. Around 16 million will die from it. If conventional farming were replaced by organic farming, the number of people suffering would explode to 1.3 billion, assuming farmers use the same amount of land they are using now.[12]
  • Farmers have cleared more than 35% of Earth’s ice-free land surface for agriculture. This is an area that is 60 times larger than the combined area of all the world’s cities and suburbs. Until organic farming can produce crops competitive with conventional methods, it cannot be considered a viable option for the majority of the world.[12]
  • The USDA National Organic Standards prohibit the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in products that are labeled “100% organic.” However, the contamination of the crops may cause some organic food to contain some GMO traces.[2]
  • The 4-digit price look-up (PLUs) codes on produce indicate the type of produce. For example, #4011 is code for a standard banana. The number “9” prefix on a PLU indicates an item is organic. For example, #94011 is an organic banana. The number “8” indicates the produce is genetically engineered. For example, #84011 is a genetically engineered banana.[10]
References

1Boyles, Salynn. “Organic Food for Kids: Worth the Price?WebMD. October 23, 2012. Accessed: October 3, 2013.

2Brown, Alice Elliot. “Can GMO Food Be Organic?BC Blogcritics. April 3, 2011. Accessed: October 3, 2013.

3Carroll, Linda. “Organic Food No Better than Conventional for Kids Pediatricians Say.” NBC News. October 22, 2012. Accessed: October 3, 2013.

4Eklund, Rachel, and Jenny Wan-chen Lee. “Organic Labels Bias Consumers Perceptions through the ‘Health Halo Effect.’” Cornell University. Update October 14, 2013. Accessed: October 14, 2013.

5Enos, Deborah. “The Facts about Organic Foods.” Live Science. September 19, 2012. Accessed: October 3, 2013.

6Fast Facts.” Whole Foods Market. 2013. Accessed: October 14, 2013.

7Gillman, Jeff. The Truth About Organic Gardening: Benefits, Drawbacks, and the Bottom Line. Portland, OR: Timber Press, 2008.

8Givens, D.I. Health Benefits of Organic Food: Effects on the Environment. CABI, 2008.

9Johnston, Rob. “The Great Organic Myths: Why Organic Foods Are an Indulgence the World Can’t Afford.” The Independent. May 2008. Accessed: October 14, 2013.

10Kahn, Mike. “Food Labeling: How To Identify Convention, Organic, and GMO Produce.” KQED. November 20, 2012. Accessed: October 14, 2013.

11Organic? Don’t Panic.” The Economist. December 11, 2003. Accessed: October 14, 2013.

12Wilcox, Christie. “Mythbusting 101: Organic Farming > Conventional Farming.” Scientific America. July 18, 2011. Accessed: October 5, 2013.

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