Organic Vs. Conventional
Other than the price, is there really a difference between buying organic produce over conventional? What’s healthier? Safer? Better for our environment? The debate of purchasing organic produce over conventional has been a long one, with opposing views, budgets and priorities from consumers and health experts.
Organic farming methods differ from conventional farming in several ways, with one main difference being the use of pesticides. Pesticides are chemicals used to kill pests, insects and unwanted weeds that may damage crops during their growth and are utilised by conventional farmers. One reason this method is used to grow produce is to yield a larger crop, with less spoilage. There is evidence to suggest that there should be a reduction in the exposure of pesticides, especially for those with a weakened immune system, children, the elderly and those who are pregnant.
The good news is that there are multiple factors that limit your contact to pesticide ingestion. These include the quantity of food consumed which was sprayed with pesticides, what pesticide was used, how well the produce was washed (or not), or choosing organic produce that has had no pesticide exposure at all.
'Eating seasonally allows us to buy organic fruit and vegetables at a much lower cost'
The key to healthy, nutrient-rich produce is it to have healthy, nutrient-rich soil. For nutrients to be present in produce the soil must contain vitamins and minerals to pass on. Organic farming practices aim to maintain and enhance soil fertility, by utilising crop rotation and cultivation practices. Alternating fields between seasons enables the land to restore and regenerate the nutrients that have been passed on to fruits and vegetables grown in that plot. Conventional farming does not use this practice, as they yield larger crops by utilising all farming space.
Furthermore, organic farming methods allow produce to grow at a normal rate, meaning the soil releases nutrients in balance. Vegetables which are conventionally fertilised grow at a much more rapid rate, therefore less time is given for the nutrients to develop in the produce.
What should I do if I cannot afford organic produce?
Eating seasonal fruits and vegetables allows us to buy organic fruits and vegetables at a lower cost as they are grown abundantly during that period. Typically, vegetables and fruits grown at different times of the year also yield vital vitamins and minerals we require during that season, for instance, carrots containing beta-carotene. This is converted by our bodies into vitamin a, which is a winter essential for immunity. Here’s a guide to New Zealand’s seasonal produce.
Exposure to pesticides is not strictly restricted to the consumption of fruits and vegetables. Processes such as washing, peeling, and cooking can significantly affect the amount of pesticide available to consumers at the time of consumption.
A handy rule of thumb for what produce to prioritise buying organic is to take notice of the skin of the fruits and vegetables. Produce with thicker skins can protect their edible parts from pesticides, meaning it’s safer for eating and better for your health. However, produce where the skin is typically eaten, for example, apples are more susceptible to higher amounts of pesticide residue. If you are able, choose your organic purchases based on if the skin is edible – it’s a good way to prioritise according to your budget!
Fruits and Vegetables which should be purchased organically include:
- Potato / Sweet potato
Fruits and Vegetables that are okay to be bought conventionally:
- Sweet corn
- Frozen peas
Home veggie gardens
Planting and growing your own veggies can decrease costs dramatically, and means you can omit pesticides altogether. Often this can be even cheaper than buying conventional produce from the supermarket (and more convenient than driving to the store when you’ve forgotten an ingredient!).
So, what should I do?
While it would be nice to buy all items organic, that is simply not possible to do all the time. So, the decision is entirely yours! Perhaps prioritise a few fruits and veggies each week in your shop, or have your hand at trying to plant a few items in the garden and see how you get on! Either way, fresh and ample fruit and vegetable intake is the ultimate goal!
Written by Staci de Geest
- BePure. (2017). Clean 15 and the dirty dozen [Website]. Retrieved March 7, 2013, from https://www.bepure.co.nz/blogs/news/clean-15-dirty-dozen
- Centre for American Progress. (2008). It’s easy being green: organic vs. conventional Foods—the gloves come off [Website]. Retrieved March 7, 2018, from https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/news/2008/09/10/4933/its-easy-being-green-organic-vs-conventional-foods-the-gloves-come-off/
- K. L. Bassil, C. Vakil, M. Sanborn, D. C. Cole, J. S. Kaur &K.J. Kerr (2007). Cancer health effects of pesticides. Canadian Family Physician, 53(10), 1704-1711.
- Winter, C. K. & Davis, S. F. (2006). Organic Foods. Journal of Food Science, 71(9), R117-R124. doi:10.1111/j.1750-3841.2006.00196.x
- World Health Organisation. (n.d.). Pesticides [Website]. Retrieved March 7, 2018, from http://www.who.int/topics/pesticides/en/