Why Buy Organic?

In recent years, growing numbers of studies and reports have claimed to prove that organically grown foods are no better for you than conventional produce. Since there are colliding interests at work, it is difficult to find an informed and non-ideological debate about the health and environmental benefits of organic and GM foods. A study review authored by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Health in 2010 emphasized the lack of data on nutrition-related health effects of organic foods, However, green consumers argue that the nutritional value, vitamins and better taste are not the main point in eating organic: it’s about treating livestock and the arable land sustainably and with respect. Just as, when buying fish and seafood from certified sustainable fisheries, it is not about whether they taste better or are better for us, it’s about preserving whole fish species.

Market Sizes of Organic Food in US$ billion, World and Selected Regions: 2008 and 2013

Source: Euromonitor International from trade sources/national statistics

Genetically Modified Food not Seen as an Acceptable Alternative by Many Consumers

A poll conducted in 2013 by the New York Times showed that 93% of Americans were demanding GMO labelling. Biotechnology labelling is not required in the United States, and the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science oppose mandatory labelling of GM food because there is no scientific evidence of harm. Yet, the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, China, India and other countries require GMO labelling, and consumers in Europe, from Iceland to Portugal, express mistrust of GM foods, while sales of organic foods are growing. Anecdotes about squirrels preferring to go hungry rather than feeding on GM corn, or about cows and pigs choosing organic over conventionally grown food when given the option don’t offer scientific proof, but they do express a public unease.

Who Can You Trust?

Where can consumers get reliable information? Studies compiled in different countries seem to prove that organic vegetables contain the same amount of vitamins and have no higher nutritional value. The argument is that fertiliser residue could be washed off conventionally grown vegetables, leaving the consumer with safe produce. But a paper published in February 2013 in PLOS One (an open access, peer-reviewed resource pointed to a link between organic agriculture and phenols, which are believed to help fight cancer and other degenerative diseases. A team of researchers compared total phenol content in organic and conventional tomatoes grown in nearby plots in Brazil with the result that total phenolic content was 139% higher in the organic tomatoes than in the conventional at the time of harvest; with a 55% higher vitamin C content.

And Does Anyone Really Care?

The outcome of the November 2013 UN Climate Change Conference in Warsaw, which resulted in an agreement to hold another conference, begs the question how serious governments actually are about their commitment to protect the environment. Coupled with widely alleged comments from the allegedly “greenest government ever” in Nr.10 Downing Street, about  green ‘nonsense’, a responsible consumer attitude towards nature can feel like a pointless cosmetic effort.