The Value of Organic Foods and Farming, Research Paper Example
Words: 2698Research Paper
The status of organic foods and farming has seen a rise in recent years. Not only is it changing how families and consumers buy their food, but it is bringing environmental, ethical, and other issues to the forefront with its presence. The real issue is certainly the benefit of organic vs. conventional farming. While there is an argument for both organic and conventionally-grown foods, there is no clear-cut answer that can be given at this time.
It is first important to consider how organic food is changing the sentiment of customers. While it has certainly not overtaken the common consumer, there are a lot of areas that are affected by organic foods and farming. As it will be touched upon, during the course of the present analysis, there are implications that take on ethical, moral, financial, scientific, and health-related values. In other words, this topic is not devoid of variety and far-reaching consequences for a strong stance.
At any rate, organic food in general has seen a great deal of attention. It has been at the forefront of scientific analysis, with the million dollar question surrounding whether it is healthier than traditional food and farming. It has been covered by the press. Organic food has entered conversations in households. Should consumers switch to organic foods?
Statistically, there is evidence that supports consumers’ draw to organic foods. In a slightly dated news report from Hansen, organic food sales were reported at $10.4 for the year (2004). It also reported a staggering 17 to 20 percent annual growth rate, which certainly eclipsed the “mere” two to three annual growth rate of conventional foods (2004). However, this golden age of sorts doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
Arguably, organic food hasn’t showed many signs of slowing down at all. According to latest stats from the Organic Trade Association, in their 2011 Organic Industry Survey, the highest growth of sales was in 2010, when fruits and vegetables saw an 11.8 percent spike over the previous year (2011). From 2009 to 2010, organic non-food sales even saw an impressive growth rate, up 9.7 percent to reach $1.97 billion (2011). The growth of organic food is eye-opening. In the last couple of decades, the industry has certainly exploded, finding a niche that could be destined for even greater success.
Another sign of the immense growth of organic food has been the aura that surrounds it. Regardless of the truth of the claims, organic food has been linked to a more positive basis of farming. For those who are even casually aware of organic food, it can be safely asserted that there are positive constructs towards organic food’s health, integrity (moral, ethical, etc), and charm. The latter rests in the traditionalist sense, that is that organic food has sustained life prior to the onset of so-called traditional farming (which is of course, modernized, contrary to the normal labels).
However, this is not a small factor in the analysis. To the contrary, these sentiments form a large argument in themselves. As science tries to catch up to the arguments from both sides, these sentiments are driving customer’s habits. Many believe that organic foods are overwhelmingly “better” – in all senses of the word – but that is not the scientifically-held view. Yet, conversely, and perhaps to the bewilderment of the whole issue, scientific opinion and other stances from authorities is not exactly in stone. At any rate, it is vital that both arguments be explored to give perspective.
Arguing for Organic Foods and Farming
The support behind organic foods is growing. Those who support organic foods tend to have strong beliefs for organically-grown foods and the accompanying farming methods. While they primarily rest on the health benefits, they can exist from it to others, such as ethical issues as well.
Perhaps at the core is the divergence from traditional farming methods. As conventionally-grown foods are treated with pesticides and chemicals, organic farming takes an opposed stance towards these types of features. It could be summarized in the following way, according to Koch: “Organic farmers use crop rotation, cover crops, and beneficial insects to fight pests, and composting to fertilize. They focus on keeping the soil nutrient-rich because healthy plants develop resistance to pests more readily” (764). The method of farming and the beliefs that drive them, along with the scientific bases, certainly find a positive nerve in those that purchase organic foods.
Prior to entering the scientific claims of organic food adherents, it is relevant to pause at the other issues that are involved. There are overarching beliefs that find a strong role. For instance, many believe that there is a simple difference of opinions between organic and traditional farming methods, which have other implications. The following statement from Glazer demonstrates this line of thought: “advocates argue that food is better for the environment if it doesn’t degrade soil and water with pesticides and fertilizer and avoids the overuse of antibiotics in animals” (78). The issue can also be extended towards ethical ideas as well. For instance, consumers want free-roaming animals and those that are not injected with antibiotics, hormones, and medications will opt for organic farms. Organic food supports are philosophically and ethically opposed to methods that conventional farming uses.
The Core Issue: Science
Indeed, the health benefits of organic foods is the core issue here. While there is something to be said about the treatment of animals on traditional farms, a sentiment regarding the methods that farming has used for generations, and other ideas, it is health that trumps all. Organic food supporters do not back down here, as it can be seen in this hard-hitting statement: “EPA’s new pamphlet advises parents to wash, peel, boil, and skin food to get rid of pesticide residues – or buy organic produce” (Glazer 765). Health implications pervade the growing debate between organic and conventional farming.
It is interesting to look at examples in this topic. Koch cites a report from the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG), which followed promises from Clinton’s administration in 1993 that exposure to pesticides for children would be reduced, found that “’levels of carcinogenic pesticides fond in fruits and vegetables heavily consumed by children’ have increased significantly” (765). Koch goes on to recap the pamphlets sent to grocery stores regarding children’s possible increased vulnerability to pesticides, and that pesticides have been shown to cause birth defects in laboratory animals (765).
Koch’s report continues to recap the cited benefits of organic food, such as the lack of cases involving foodborne illnesses (765). Stricter rules are found in certified organic food producers. However, the ending here is quite revealing. As the analysis shifts from scientific assertions for organic foods to the defense of conventional foods, the analysis will not transition to other relevant items.
The Scientific Defense of Conventional Methods
Continuing the theme of scientific bases for organic and conventional foods, it is vital to look at the ending in Koch’s report. Speaking with an expert in microbial food safety, the expert comments that no one really knows whether organic foods are safe (765). While this report is 12 years old, not much has changed.
Indeed, there is not necessarily a “defense” as there is a “stalemate” on the matter, currently. A more recent review comes to the safe conclusion: “There is currently no evidence to support or refute claims that organic food is safer and thus, healthier, than conventional food, or vice versa” (Magkos, Arvanti, and Zampelas 47). It is important to note that current research is not necessarily saying that organic food isn’t safer than convention foods. Rather, the reports are saying that it is unknown, at least in general terms.
This is echoed commonly today. A simple statement from the Mayo Clinic reads: “The answer isn’t yet clear… [research] is ongoing” (n.d.). An interesting question to this is thus posed: why is this not a hazy area? It seems that, at least according to Magkos, Arvanti, and Zeampelas, matters are extremely difficult: “comparative studies of organic and conventional produces are believed to be difficult to construct and evaluate, because of several extraneous variables that are difficult or even impossible to control” (24). Not only does modern science not know about the scientific (i.e. health) advantages of organic food, if there are any, doubts are cast on the legitimacy of research that attempts to answer such questions.
In the end, at least from the analysis’s breakdown of the scientific role of the matter, no one knows. There are studies that might cite some advantages, such as those addressed earlier and cutting-edge reports, for instance, on the differences of pesticide residue. Yet, in the end, there is no general consensus. Some restudies cite no significant differences, while other studies disagree. Others distance themselves from the legitimacy of studies at the moment, such as in the previous quote, due to the sheer complexity involved.
Discussion of Key Issues
Moving past the facts and assertions from both sides, it’s interesting to look at the significance. Is there a clear-cut answer? How does this change buying food for the average household? Indeed, there are a lot of questions involved in this complicated topic.
There are certain strengths to both sides that create a dilemma for one who does not already have strong viewpoints. Choosing organic foods may simply be the better choice. Not only could – and important term – be more healthy, but it supports the treatment of animals (this is a general point) and the environmental benefits that are established. As science may catch up to the growing sentiment, of the superiority of organic food, going with organic food may be the safer choice for many.
On the other side of the debate is conventional food. In terms of safety, there is no reasonable evidence to suggest that it is outdone in health, taste, or safety than that of organic food. Also, at the current moment, there is a noticeable price difference, which can have implications not only in the family budget, but in eating a balanced diet. While research is ongoing, organic food is not “that” new – thus, there may be no reason to worry.
Organic Foods: The Answer or an “Overreaction?”
While much time in the current analysis has been spent breaking down the argument, this is the true heart of the analysis. Indeed, there is a great deal of subject matter to get through initially, in order to properly answer the critical question. Thus, the question remains: is organic food the answer or an overreaction?
Prior to moving onto the two arguments, it cannot be stressed enough regarding the facts. While some believe that organic food can be beneficial to one’s health, including that of experts, it is not established to any reasonable extend in current scientific theory. Thus, what remains is opinion, perspectives, and so forth in answering such a large and important question.
Arguably, as the facts are devoid of any reasonable conclusion, the first important point is found in the subject of personal choice. In other words, since there is no established scientific assumption or decision on the matter, it is up in the air. It becomes a personal choice whether buying organic foods is the answer, at least based on any perceived health benefits.
This may be a difficult point to overcome for many who truly believe that organic food is the answer. However, in answering the first part of the important question, concerning organic food as the answer, the answer must be personal. Since there is no overarching basis, scientifically, each must approach the topic on his or her own perspective.
In reality, organic foods may be the answer. They may be beneficial to one’s health. However, based on what is currently known about organic and conventional foods, there can be no overriding statement from either side, on the health benefits of organic food or the negative health benefits of conventional food. There is simply no precedence for a blanket statement on the promotion of the former or the condemnation of the latter.
Are Consumers Overreacting?
The second part of the question is rather tricky. After all, if it is reasonable to say that organic foods have no well-established health benefits, then the general public may be overreacting. This is clearly seen, or so the hypothetical argument goes, in light of the overwhelming figures on organic foods, not to mention the powerful sentiments that are seen for organic food.
However, such an argument may be an overreaction in itself. It is arguably not fair to say that those who choose organic foods are overreacting to the topic – to the perceived superiority of such foods. As stated prior, there may be health benefits; current science simply doesn’t know, at least to a convincing extent. Thus, those who strongly prefer organic food may be making the right choice.
Due to the complexity and the unknowns in this discussion (after all, the jury is out on the issue), the proper answer to that of “overreacting” blends to the previous part of the question. As purchasing organic foods for health benefits is a personal choice, it may not be fair to say that they are overreacting. However, if it is blown out of proportion, then there could be a legitimate issue here.
Consumers may thus be overreacting if the organic food trend is taken too far. It is one thing to make an educated choice, looking at the known benefits and the philosophical argument for organic foods. However, if in this personal choice, consumers start claiming overwhelming superiority for organic foods, then the line may be crossed. What has now been reached is a violation of that personal choice, in light of strong arguments that are unfounded, at least currently.
In other words, when everything is taken into consideration, positive and negative attributes to organic and conventional foods cannot be made, with a strong degree of reasonability. It is argued that the choice to buy organic foods is a personal choice. Yet, if this trend becomes a so-called “craze” with unfounded statements being made, then consumers, media, companies, and so forth would be overreacting to the matter.
The organic and conventional food debate is far-reaching. Leaving the health benefits aside, there are plenty of other implications, such as ethical and environmental advantages in the conversation. Not only must the consumer consider the primary argument, that organic food is healthier than conventional food, but the other accompanying topics in the conversation.
Of course, the impact of health benefits has been felt in this debate as well. While organic foods are believed to have major health benefits, this is largely unfounded with the overarching amount of conflicting studies. There has been no conclusive evidence that organic food is safer, healthier, and tastier than conventional food. Research studies have even attested to the notion that these studies are extremely difficult to execute.
The crucial question that the analysis deals with is the overall picture. Is organic food better, or is this merely an overreaction from the public? Following the lead of established authorities, the first part must be undefined. Maybe it is. At any rate, and at least at the current moment in scientific progress on the subject, these questions take on a personal nature. Anything more becomes an overreaction.
Until science catches up to the strong opinions that are seen, the debate must be taken into perspective. Consumers must balance their beliefs concerning both types of farming, issues of price, and other topics. Overarching, powerful statements regarding superiority of organic food for all would indeed cross the line. It is vital to note that this goes the other way as well. In the end, perhaps science will shed some conclusive light on the matter. In the meantime, this is arguably a personal decision that must be dealt with on such a level.
Koch, Kathy. “Food Safety Battle: Organic Vs. Biotech.” CQ Researcher 8.33 (1998): 761-784. Print.
Glazer, Sarah. “Slow Food Movement.” CQ Researcher 17.4 (2007): 73-96. Print.
Magkos, Faidon, Arvanti, Fotini, Zampelas, Antonis. “Organic Food: Buying More Safety or Just Peace of Mind? A Critical Review of the Literature.” Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 46.1 (2007): 23-56. Print.
Hansen, Nanette. “Organic Food Sales See Healthy Growth. MSNBC. 2004. Web. 11 May 2012.
“Organic Foods: Are they Safer? More Nutritious?” Mayo Clinic. n.d. Web. 11 May 2012.
Organic Trade Association. “Industry Statistics and Projected Growth.” 2011. Web. 11 May 2012.
Time is precious
don’t waste it!