Organic Produce: Is It Really Better?

Type “organic versus conventional produce” into a search engine and you will come up with a lot of “debunking” sites that tell you there is no difference between conventional and organic produce. They say pesticide residues on conventionally grown produce are minimal and don’t affect us, and that conventional produce is structurally identical to organic produce, and therefore will not only taste identical but will have the exact same nutritional properties.

To me this all seems like hype. Washington, D.C.’s Environmental Working Group has studied pesticide levels on produce and they are significant. Pesticides are poisons — the idea that we are somehow magically immune to this poison is, to me, ludicrous.

And the idea that the two types of produce are structurally identical assumes that they are grown in identical soil, which they’re not. The nutrition and taste of a plant are largely determined by its mineral content — minerals that have to be present in the soil in which it’s grown. While organic farming operations take steps to remineralize the soil using methods that offer a full range of minerals, conventional produce growers generally use fertilizers that only provide five or six. Plus, chemicals and pesticides degrade the quality of the soil, killing micro-organisms vital for soil health.

But some people don’t see things like I do. For the skeptics in the audience, I present something in your own language — a peer reviewed study. Researchers did a side-by-side comparison between conventionally grown and organic strawberries in California. And, no surprise, the organic berries were more nutrient dense, tastier and left a healthier soil than their conventional counterparts.

It’s a comprehensive study, too. The researchers analyzed 31 chemical and biological soil properties, soil DNA, and the nutritional quality of three strawberry varieties on more than two dozen commercial fields –13 conventional and 13 organic. And, just for good measure, they analyzed the taste, too.

“There is no paper in the literature that comprehensively and quantitatively compares so many indices of both food and soil quality at multiple sampling times on so many commercial farms,” said John Reganold, lead author of the study and Washington State University Regents professor of Soil Science. “Our findings have global implications and advance what we know about the sustainability benefits of organic farming systems. We also show you can have high quality, healthy produce without resorting to an arsenal of pesticides.”

On almost every major indicator they studied, the researchers found the organic produce to be superior. Key findings included:

  • The organic strawberries had significantly higher antioxidant activity and concentrations of ascorbic acid and phenolic compounds. The organic strawberries had longer shelf life.
  • The organic strawberries had more dry matter, or “more strawberry in the strawberry.”
  • In one variety, anonymous testers found the organic strawberries were sweeter, had better flavor and appearance than their non-organic counterparts.

The researchers also found the soil quality of the organic strawberries to be far superior, “in a variety of key chemical and biological properties, including carbon sequestration, nitrogen, microbial biomass, enzyme activities, and micronutrients.” The DNA analysis of the soil also found the organic soil to have more unique genes and greater genetic diversity, “important measures of the soil’s resilience to stress and ability to carry out essential processes.”

More vitamins, more antioxidants, denser, longer-lasting, tastier and better for the earth — all the stuff debunkers assert isn’t true about organic produce.

About Author:

The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale, Holistic Nutritionist and trained chef, living in Toronto. You can email him with questions at dougthehealthyfoodie alt gmail dot com.

Editor’s Review:

Organic farming is labor intensive, smaller scale and non-subsidised by governments, hence the higher price point. It’s not true that a big percentage of organic crops are lost to insect and other infestations. Organic farming is all about producing genetically strong, disease resistant plants by ‘back to nature’, and sustainable farming methods…and harvesting nutrient-dense, flavorful crops.

The fact that organic crops are non-genetically modified, chemical and preservative-free, gives them a shorter shelf-life than commercially produced crops, which are often from genetically modified seeds, chemical-laden (from fertilizers and pesticides etc.)and coated in various preservatives (eg. waxes and formaldehyde), to maximize their shelf-life and allow them to be shipped around the globe…and still look ‘fresh’, weeks later.

Organically grown crops are so flavorful, due to the abundance of organic nutrients the plants draw up from the rich soil. Commercially produced crops are grown in nutrient-depleted soil, which relies heavily on chemical fertilizers to bolster it up artificially. Most commercially grown crops are bland and sometimes chemical tasting, by comparison.

Environmentally speaking, organic agriculture is sustainable, and preserves our Mother Earth. Buy organic whenever you can.