Organic foods and products are becoming increasingly popular with shoppers for a variety of reasons. They are viewed as better for our health, better for the planet and more considerate of animals and wildlife. In fact, the UK’s organic market is now worth an astonishing £3.1 billion. Each day in the UK, shoppers spend almost £8.5 million on organic products, ranging from fresh fruit and veg to
organic drinks and health and beauty items.
However, some argue that organic foods are too expensive, particularly for households on a budget. And the extra effort required to source them can be quite time consuming. So, is it really worth buying organic foods and products? Let’s take a closer look at the issue.
Why would you buy organic?
Organic is a method of farming whereby agricultural produce is grown, processed, stored and sold in a way that takes into consideration the health of people, animals and the planet. The goals of organic farming are to improve the quality of soil and water, reduce pollution, support animal welfare and protect wildlife in a sustainable, whole system approach.
Organic farmers must adhere to a specific set of standards that abide by EU regulations. This involves no synthetic fertilisers or pesticides, better standards of animal welfare, no routine use of antibiotics, no genetic modification, no use of irradiation and no artificial colours or preservatives.
There are a number of organic certification bodies in the UK, such as the Soil Association. These organisations regularly inspect farmers and food producers to ensure that they are adhering to these strict standards.
So, when you go to buy a product and see that it has been certified organic, you can be sure that it fulfils these conditions in the way that it has been produced, processed, transported and stored. Put simply, buying organic means that you will always know what’s in your food and where it’s come from.
Are there any disadvantages to buying organic?
One of the main downsides to buying organic food and products is the price. Organic products tend to be more expensive, which can be a challenge for families and individuals on a budget. However, the increased costs signify the fact that organic farming involves additional skills, expertise and commitment.
For example, the additional work of running an organic farm includes planning crop rotations and using a farm’s own animals to create natural fertiliser to maintain the health of the soil. This is crucial because
95% of food production relies on healthy soil to nourish and feed humans and animals. Isn’t that worth spending a few extra pennies for?
Another possible disadvantage of organic produce is that it tends to have a shorter shelf life than the non-organic variety. This is because preservatives are not used to maintain the freshness during the shipping process. However, this could be a reason to use up all your organic fruits and veggies in your favourite recipes!
It could be argued that sourcing organic food and products requires extra effort, which could deter time-pressed families and individuals. This is where local independent health stores like Real Foods come in. We stock over 4,000 organic products including everything from food cupboard staples to superfoods,
snacks and even wine.
Is it really worth buying organic?
If cost is a concern, then why not switch to one or two essential items, such as bread or milk? According to one study, organic milk contains around 50% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than conventionally produced products. So this one change could benefit your health without impacting your wallet too much.
Another way to go organic on a budget is to eat seasonally when it comes to your five a day. Fruit and vegetables that are imported from other countries out of season are a lot more expensive due to the amount of energy this takes up. Take a look at the labels of your food to find out where it has come from. Also familiarise yourself with the fruits and vegetables that are currently in season. If you need some inspiration then take a look at our blog post on this topic.
Small changes can make a big difference. So rather than attempting to buy all your food items as organic, you could just opt to buy the basics. Think about the staples that you use in most of your cooking or eat most often, for example, onions, potatoes, bananas, pulses, pasta or flour.
Taking the time to do some meal prep at the weekend using raw foods and then freezing food in batches will help to reduce waste. Soups and stews are ideal for this. It will ensure that none of your valuable organic produce will be thrown away! Take a look at our recipe section for some great ideas for just this kind of thing.
Is it healthier to eat and/or use organic food and products?
Opting to buy organic food will help to reduce your exposure to pesticides and herbicides as well as various additives and preservatives. Weed killers are forbidden in organic farming and only a few naturally occurring fungicides and insecticides are allowed on a strictly reduced basis. This is notable because studies have shown that certain pesticides may have adverse effects on children’s cognitive development. They have also been linked to cancer and reproductive problems.
Hydrogenated fats and controversial additives such as MSG, aspartame and tartrazine are banned under organic regulations. Genetically modified crops and ingredients are prohibited under organic standards too.
Studies have shown that organic foods contain higher levels of certain nutrients, such as vitamin C, iron, magnesium and phosphorus than non-organic varieties. Some reports say that organic produce tastes fresher and more flavoursome. And a comprehensive review of organic food and agriculture has stated that “organic food production has several documented and potential benefits for human health”.
There are organic alternatives for so many foods that finding one or two substitutes for store cupboard staples might not be as difficult as you had expected.
Some additional benefits
The benefits to following an organic lifestyle extend beyond foods and fresh produce. Organic beauty products are made from ingredients grown on organic farms. This means that they are free from GM ingredients, and do not contain chemical nasties such as parabens, phthalates, synthetic colours, dyes and fragrances. Like organic produce, certified organic health and beauty products are produced using a system that protects the health of our planet. Testing on animals is prohibited and sustainability and ethics are key to their production.
Increasing numbers of parents are choosing organic foods and products for their little ones, knowing that
organic baby products adhere to organic standards. The absence of chemicals and genetically modified ingredients can ensure that children enjoy the healthiest possible start in life. Another area to consider is switching to organic cleaning products. As they are free from synthetic chemicals, you can be assured that your house will be clean and fresh without relying on toxic ingredients.
Is it better for the planet?
Making the change to an organic lifestyle not only benefits our health, but it is also beneficial for animal welfare, wildlife and even the future of the planet.
Organic farming helps to fight climate change through various ways. On average, organic farms tend to use less energy than non-organic ones. Chemical pesticides and fertilisers are made through burning fossil fuels, so organic methods help reduce environmental pollution and greenhouse gasses. According to the Soil Association, if all the farmlands in Europe adopted organic principles, agricultural emissions could be reduced by 40 to 50% by 2050.
Organic farms support wildlife and provide homes for creatures such as birds, bees and butterflies.
Statistics show there is 50% more plant, insect and bird life and around 75% more wild bees on organic farms. The world is experiencing a rapid decline in insects, mainly due to the use of pesticides. As three quarters of the world’s commercial crops depend on insect pollination, this is a crucial issue that needs to be addressed. It is thought that if more farms stopped using pesticides and instead followed more sustainable and organic practices, this could slow or reverse the decline in insects.
Is it kinder to animals?
Under organic standards, animals are fed a natural and organic diet that is completely free from genetically modified ingredients. Animals are also given freedom and space to graze and roam, which helps to reduce disease and stress. The routine use of antibiotics is banned under organic regulations, which helps lower the health risks associated with antimicrobial resistance. So, by spending more on organic products, shoppers are supporting animal welfare as well as practices that minimise risks to our health.
As you can see, there are many varied reasons for choosing organic products, from improving your health, to benefiting the lives of animals and protecting the future of the planet.
Next time you are planning your weekly shop, why not try organic?