A Small Choice With a Big Impact
You may already know buying organic is good for your health, but did you know it also benefits workers, the environment and climate change? It's true! Organic foods are grown without the use of artificial chemicals, synthetic fertilizer, hormones, pesticides or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Essentially, eating organic foods minimizes your risk for exposure to environmental toxins, avoiding serious health issues related to pesticides and other harmful chemicals found in non-organic produce and meats (12). There are no preservatives and additives to organic products, a.k.a organic foods are better for you! But on top of it being healthy, it benefits farm workers and the planet as a whole too.
Buying Organic Food Protects Farmworkers' Health!
Studies show the greatest amount of pesticide use in the United States occurs in agriculture. Pesticide exposures increase the likelihood of chemical related injuries and adverse effects in the workplace. These injuries are caused by the chronic toxicity of pesticides (specifically organophosphate) (14). This study determined that fatal injuries increased with days per year of pesticide application, with the highest risk associated to those who apply pesticides for more than 60 days a year. Being exposed to pesticides (even when a small amount) everyday (a.k.a chronic occupational exposure), will cause adverse health effects such as difficulties in executive functions like verbal, visual, memory, coordination and attention functions (8)(14).
Not only are pesticides used in the United States' agricultural process, but they are also heavily used among conventional farming in other countries that produce a lot of the food we eat! Did you know Mexico accounts for 75% of agricultural imports to the U.S.? Not only are farmworkers in Mexico exposed to harmful chemicals but on top of that, studies show most farmworkers in Mexico do not have the proper personal protective equipment (PPE)(8). Yikes! Meaning, they are even more exposed to these harmful chemicals! Similarly, according to a study where melon farmers were interviewed on pesticide application and PPE, the majority of farmers weren't aware of the importance of protecting themselves (6). Yet, another study conducted in India found pesticide poisoning is common among farmers because they are often under trained and consider it impractical and expensive to use safety equipment (13). Although we may not have the power to change these policies among other countries, we do have the choice to buy organic and help reduce pesticide exposure among farmworkers!
Organic Production is Better for the Environment (and our ecosystem)!
Unlike conventional farming, organic farming uses dirt and natural processes such as crop rotations, composting of plant and animal materials, and manure as fertilizer for the production of food instead of using synthetic fertilizers and applying pesticides. The problem with synthetic fertilizers is it requires the burning of fossil fuels, which inherently makes climate change worse by producing pollution and emitting nitrous oxide (N2O; a greenhouse gas with a high global warming potential)(3). The problem with pesticides is similar in that fumigants will release toxic chemicals into the air, accounting for 30% of global emissions leading to climate change (think CO2 in the air).
Whereas, organic farm productions improve climate change! Using manure as fertilizer reduces pollution, minimizes nitrogen footprint (i.e., reduces gas emissions) and increases nitrogen recycling (9). All good things! Additionally, crop rotations prevent nutrients from building up in the soil which helps with nitrate leaching and run-off. Otherwise, this excess nitrogen and phosphorus caused by synthetic fertilization can be lost into waterways, causing eutrophication (an increased load of nutrients in lakes and oceans, creating an abundance of algae and plants in estuaries and coastal waters). This excess of nutrients leads to low-oxygen (hypoxis) water (since the algae block the sunlight), which then kills off fish and their homes! (10) Eutrophication has a negative domino effect on aquaculture, since the abundance of algae and plants produces a large amount of carbon dioxide which then lowers the PH level of water, causing acidification. Acidification then slows the growth of fish, which means a smaller harvest (10). So let's support organic farming to save the fish population!
Eating Organic Will Help Save Our Busy Bees!
Organic farming benefits the entire planet, including our busy bees and beautiful butterflies! (10) Just like how pesticides affect human health, these toxic chemicals also place a burden on bees and butterflies (2). Entomologists (those who study insects) suspect that lethal and sublethal effects of pesticides are one of the many factors threatening our friendly pollinators (2). The use of pesticides is negatively affecting pollination and affecting our food system at large by reducing the bee population (21). Sadly, 40% of pollinators like bees and butterflies face extinction (11).
Although small, these tiny and mighty pollinators are responsible for a lot of the food we eat (11). Bees are responsible for the pollination of fruits, nuts and vegetables. Pollination is essential for foraging crops used to feed the livestock we depend on for meat and dairy products (1). More specifically, 75% of the world's food crops depend on these pollinators! (11) Without the bees, the shelves at your local grocery stores would be empty! And I don't know about you, but I certainly can't live without honey in my tea! To prevent this from happening, we encourage you to buy organic and while you're at it, join these U.S. food retailers in saving the bees and reducing pesticide use! (16)
Tips on Buying Organic
Even though there are many awesome reasons to eat organic, we know buying organic food products can get expensive. That's why we have a few pro tips to help you prioritize what to buy (and when to buy)!
1. Start off with purchasing fruits and vegetables where it matters most to buy organic!
We won't go into detail on all dirty dozen but we do suggest adding these organic items to your grocery list!
- Strawberries 🍓 (according to many studies, strawberries are the fruit with the MOST pesticides)(5)
- All other yummy berries you throw in that smoothie! - raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, etc.
- Spinach (or any other leafy greens of your choice)
Basically, anything you eat the skin on you should prioritize to buy organic!
If you feel overwhelmed by all this new info and feel as though everything in your pantry HAS to be organic. Don't sweat it. There's no need to rush to restock your entire kitchen with everything organic but the above list should help you start!
2. Budget and hold off on buying these items
Here's a list of a few of the foods containing the least amount of pesticides, a.k.a the clean fifteen (so it's okay to hold off on buying these organic right away):
- Sweet Corn
3. Buy organic meat and dairy products. Look for an organic certified label! Oftentimes, conventional farm animals may be fed antibiotics, animal byproducts, growth hormones, pesticides, and sewage sludge. We really shouldn't be consuming any of this. Whereas, organic farmers are required to raise their farm animals in living conditions as close to their natural habitat as possible while feeding them 100% organic food and do not administer antibiotics or hormones (18). Good for farm animals and good for you!
4. Shop frozen goods. There are many organic frozen fruits and vegetables that are affordable and delicious as well. Organic blueberry muffins that are good for the earth and your wallet taste better! Trust us!
5. Buy in season and shop at your local farm CSA! Fruits and vegetables are cheapest and freshest when they are in season (friendly tip: stock up on your favorite berries and freeze them for later!). Shopping at your local community supported agriculture (CSA) farm will help assure you buy what's in season!
We hope these tips will make the journey to eating organic a lot less stressful and instead, a lot more fun!