Organic food is not always better for your health and the environment

If a product is labelled as organic, many people will see it as good for the planet and their health. But is it always true? Does “organic” equals “sustainable”? A new study from the University of British Columbia revealed that the sustainability behind the “organic” label actually varies quite a bit, depending on the context.

Organic food is generally good, but more expensive. Its benefits heavily depend on the country, in which food is bought. Image credit: Dwight Sipler via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

People usually think that organic food is good for the environment and thus it has to be supported. It is, however, almost always more expensive and requires quite a bit more of resources to be produced. That made scientists think about organic foods differently – do costs of organic production really make it worth all the rage about it? Are people glorifying the label too much? Unsurprisingly, scientists found that organic is not always good and its benefits for the environment and people vary quite a bit, depending on the context. Scientists analysed organic crop farming across 17 criteria such as yield, impact on climate change, farmer livelihood and consumer health.

Most consumers think organic food is healthy because it does not have as much pesticides and is more nutritious. But in some countries, for example, Canada, the use of pesticides is very strictly regulated, so all vegetables have very little amounts of them. That means that organic food only brings very little benefits with a huge different in price. Furthermore, scientists noted that vegetables in Canada are already full of nutrients, so organic and non-organic food contents do not differ that much. The situation is completely different in developing countries, where pesticides are used uncontrollably.

Because organic fields yield 19-25 % less crops, benefits for the environment are also limited. Verena Seufert, leader of the research, explained: “While an organic farm may be better for things like biodiversity, farmers will need more land to grow the same amount of food. And land conversion for agriculture is the leading contributor to habitat loss and climate change”. Scientists conclude that organic culture cannot create sustainable food future alone – more actions are needed. Consumers, who choose organic over non-organic, think that they are taking control, but in reality these two kinds of farmed goods are not that much different.

People should stop going after labels, as it is an easy manipulation tool. Instead, they should start demanding better practices in both organic and conventional farms.


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