Every day, it seems, new benefits of buying and eating organic food are cropping up.
Of course, we know one of those benefits is not price. A 2015 analysis by Consumer Reports found organic food products were an average of 47 percent more expensive than conventional food products. Nonetheless, for many consumers, the health, nutrition and environmental advantages of organic food outweigh concerns about cost.
Generally speaking, the value of organic food has been well documented. For instance, we know that organic food is far less toxic than conventionally produced food.
“Organic is a top choice because of the confidence in organic as the choice to avoid foods grown with toxic and persistent pesticides,” says Laura Batcha, executive director and CEO of the Organic Trade Association.
Beyond that, however, there are reasons for going organic that you might not have heard of. Here are five of those lesser-known reasons.
1. Organic farming boosts the local economy.
Research released in May 2016 by the Organic Trade Association identified 225 U.S. counties, many of them in California, that are “hotspots” for organic farming and related activity. These counties boast higher median household income and lower poverty rates than their non-hotspot counterparts, the research shows.
Specifically, being an organic hotspot:
- Increases a county’s median household income by over $2,000.
- Reduces a county’s poverty rate by as much as 1.35 percentage points.
“Organic activity was found to have a greater beneficial economic effect than that of general agriculture activity, and even more of a positive impact than some major anti-poverty programs at the county level,” the study says.
2. Organic agriculture reaps more profit.
Compared with old-school farmers, organic farmers are plowing more profit into their businesses. That’s the biggest eye-opener in a study published in 2015 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
In their analysis of 44 studies comparing the financial performance of organic and conventional farming on five continents, Washington State University scientists David Crowder and John Reganold found organic farming is 22 percent to 35 more profitable than conventional farming, based on the higher prices that organic crops fetch. This is despite the fact that organic crop yields are up to 18 percent lower than those of conventional crops.
“Moreover, with its environmental benefits, organic agriculture can contribute a larger share in sustainably feeding the world,” Crowder and Reganold say.
3. Organic crops offer more good stuff.
Research published in 2014 by the British Journal of Nutrition pinpoints a cornucopia of benefits from organic crop production.
In reviewing 343 peer-reviewed research publications, the researchers determined that organic crops had 18 percent to 69 percent higher concentrations of antioxidant compounds than conventional crops, thanks to the lack of synthetic pesticides. The researchers concluded that consumers who switch to organic fruit, vegetables and cereals would enhance their intake of antioxidants by 20 percent to 40 percent.
“A plant on a conventionally managed field will typically have access to high levels of synthetic nitrogen and will marshal the extra resources into producing sugars and starches,” the study says. “As a result, the harvested portion of the plant will often contain lower concentrations of other nutrients, including health-promoting antioxidants.”
Additionally, the researchers discovered that pesticide residue was three to four times less likely to be found in organic crops than conventional crops. Although organic crops sometimes contain pesticide residue, the levels are 10-fold to 100-fold less than in conventional crops, the study says.
Moreover, the researchers concluded that conventional crops had roughly twice as much cadmium, a highly toxic heavy metal, as organic crops. Why? The researchers think it’s because certain fertilizers used by conventional farmers make cadmium more available to plant roots. And why is so much cadmium so bad? A doubling of cadmium from food can push some people past safe daily intake levels, the study says.
Overall, the study tells “a powerful story of how organic plant-based foods are nutritionally superior and deliver bona fide health benefits,” says Charles Benbrook, a Washington State University professor who participated in the research.
4. Going organic can combat resistance to antibiotics.
In the U.S., 2 million people are infected each year with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and at least 23,000 of those people die from those infections, according to research cited by The Organic Center, a nonprofit research organization.
A report released in July 2016 by The Organic Center indicates that consumers can protect themselves from antibiotic-resistant bacteria by eating organically raised meat.
“The use of antibiotics in any setting can lead to the proliferation and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” the report says. “However, low-dose administration of antibiotics in livestock is now considered by many to be an unnecessary driver of bacterial resistance with significant public health impacts.”
Federal organic standards ban the use of antibiotics in livestock production. As a result, organic livestock production is “one of the simplest and most effective ways to reduce the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” the report says.
5. Organic farming produces better strawberries.
In a study comparing 13 conventional farms and 13 organic farms producing strawberries, researchers found the organic farms grew tastier, more nutritious berries while leaving the soil healthier, according to Washington State University. All of the farms were in California.
Findings of the study, published in 2010 in the journal PLOS ONE, “have global implications and advance what we know about the sustainability benefits of organic farming systems,” says John Reganold, a Washington State University professor of soil science and lead author of the study.