Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Why do more and more people opt for organic foods though they cost hell of a lot as compared to products of the main stream food industry? The answer is very simple. Because they are apprehensive about the safety of food products manufactured by the food processing sector which uses hundreds of chemicals for making a product that will have the required eating characteristics to please the consumer and adequate shelf life to cover the minimum period required for selling them in the market. Front of the labeling regulations insist on printing the expiry date and therefore consumer cannot be expected to buy old products with no life left before they can be consumed. There is a belief that organic foods are produced with no chemicals at any stage and are free from dangerous pre-harvest and post-harvest protectants to save them from insects and pests. Also some believe that organic foods are more nutritious than conventionally made foods.

Against such a background it is no wonder that the organic food sector grows almost at an annual rate of 15-20% touching a global sale of about 70 billion dollars in the current year. According to some experts if every human being switches over to organic foods, the family budget for food may inflate by 10% to 40%! Whether this due to opportunity cost or increased cost of production is again a matter of debate! Besides there is the issue of practicality regarding producing such huge quantities to meet the global demand. After all only 2% of the land under cultivation is dedicated to raising of organic foods and it is unlikely that it will grow sufficiently fast to produce significant quantities in the near future. Another disturbing development is the efforts in countries like the US to dilute the standards for organic foods to oblige the main stream food industry giants to get into this business through the back door. Otherwise how can any one justify the policy of the USDA which administers overseeing activities in organic foods area in introducing various "grades" like 100% organic, 95% organic, 70% organic and less than 70% organic? If this is not to fool the gullible consumers under government connivance, what else it is?    

The fight between organic food producers and main stream normal food industry throws out many interesting but contradictory claims and counter claims by the antagonists and the protagonists of either side. In a recent critique on organic foods, it was claimed that the increased price commanded by this category of products is not justified, looked from any angle. According to it there is hardly any difference between these two categories of foods in terms of "presence" of chemicals or pathogens or nutrient density. If this is so why the various national and international food safety organizations are perpetuating this fallacy and protecting the increased margins enjoyed by this sector? A million dollar question begging for a convincing answer! But it can be unequivocally stated that organic foods, even if they are absolutely not safe, comparatively they do less damage than their normal industry produced counterparts.

Here is a gist of the "opinion" on organic foods by an organization self styled to investigate truth and fallacies perpetuated by the food processing industry. 
   " * Pesticide residues are generally present on both organic and non-organic produce, and, on average, appear to be present in lower concentrations on organic products. However, while it seems obvious that food is healthier when not contaminated by pesticide residues, there is very limited/insufficient data available from reputable studies showing that legal pesticide residues pose any actual harm to humans when ingested at the levels permitted by law. Most of the studies tend to agree that any benefits gained from the reduction of exposure to pesticide residues achieved by consuming organic products are negligible. Know that this is a contentious area among scientists, with strong agendas in play.
    * Microbiological contaminants (e.g., bacteria such as E. coli) are generally present on both organic and non-organic products in varying degrees. Some research has found that organics have lower microbiological contamination, while other research has found the opposite. The presence of microbiological contaminants may not vary much (if at all) between the two product types; however, there is a lower incidence of antimicrobial-resistant strains on organic products.
    * Toxic metal contamination of organic produce has been found to be similar to that of non-organic produce, and most of the research has found the differences to be negligible.
    * Food additives are also limited in organic products and are therefore generally present in lower quantities than in non-organic products. However, most approved food additives don't appear to be toxic when used in conformance with established limits.
    * Other contaminants such as nitrates (found in synthetic fertilizers) appear to be lower, on average, in organic products, though they are still present. Some scientists have cited various instances in which organic foods have higher levels of secondary metabolites (e.g., polyphenolic compounds, antioxidants) as a positive feature. Others have indicated that this may pose a health risk due to the supposed increased presence of naturally occurring toxins (which some research has suggested are equally as potent as synthetic toxins), resulting from an increase in the plant's use of natural defense mechanisms".

Interestingly these critics also qualify their conclusions saying that at present many of the research conclusions with regard to organic vs. non-organic product safety are premature!. Most of the studies emphasize lack of data as a limiting factor in their conclusions. However they still aver that their conclusions are based on available data and applying simple logics! They have a point when it is claimed that there were more than 50 organic food recalls in the lat year in Canada and the US which cannot be easily ignored. Contaminants found in organic foods  include Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria monocytogenes, cadmium and mycotoxins. It is admitted that even though a great deal of care is taken in growing and harvesting the food under rigorous conditions monitored by approved certifying agencies, contamination can still be introduced anywhere in the production process for any food and organic foods are not immune to this problem.

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