The Difference Between Organic and Conventional/GMO Foods

Everybody knows it’s important to eat healthy, but some “healthy” foods aren’t quite what they seem. What may look healthy on the surface can be a genetically modified cocktail of harmful substances. Choosing organic foods and produce whenever possible significantly decreases the chances of taking in any of the pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizer that is commonly found in conventional produce.

What are GMOs?

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are growing life forms that have had their DNA chemically altered. The most common genetically modified foods are plant products, including soybean, corn, canola, rice, and cotton seed oil. The first genetically modified food was a tomato with delayed ripening abilities, which has given rise to an entire industry of genetically modified food.

Organic Foods

In short, organic means that a food is made without any intervention from mankind or chemistry. Crops are grown separately from conventional crops using special soil, and farmers are not allowed to use any pesticides, non-natural fertilizers, or antibiotics. Buying organic is the only way to ensure that dangerous substances such as insecticides and herbicides are not present in produce.

GMOs and Food

The GMO epidemic isn’t limited to produce. More than 80 percent of packaged foods in the United States contain genetically modified organisms. They are frequently added to processed foods, as well as seemingly healthy substances such as vitamins and amino acids. Of a typical crop of soy, cotton, canola, and sugar beets, more than 90 percent of the crop consists of GMOs.

GMOs pose a risk to humans because they don’t fully allow the body to function. High levels of herbicides can lead to behavioral delays, birth defects, immune weakness, and could potentially lead to the development of cancer. Additionally, GMOs have been linked to the widespread killing of frogs, earthworms, and fisheries; GMOs have also contributed to erosion of soil. Furthermore, the genetic modification brought about by GMOs has seen plants morph into different species, the most notable example being a “superweed” that is very hard to kill.

On the other hand, natural foods pose a much smaller risk to living organisms. There is the potential for food-borne bacteria such as salmonella and E.Coli as well as fungi, but by and large organic foods provide the benefits people look for in healthy foods. Organic foods help to fight disease in humans, protect crops, preserve soil and reduce pollution.

Organic vs. Non-Organic

It’s important to note that the study of organic food in contrast to non-organic food is still ongoing. However, evidence shows that organic food is indeed healthier than its non-organic counterparts. Organic foods contain higher levels of Vitamin C, as well as minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients than conventional produce.

Organic Farming

Organic food is not only more nutritious than typical produce, but it is also farmed in a much safer, more organized manner. Farmers keep detailed records about their organic crops, tracking the produce from their roots until they’re purchased. Buffer zones are used to ensure that no unwanted chemicals find their way into the organic farming areas. The result is the guarantee of fresh, uncontaminated produce.

Many people choose to buy their organic produce locally – that is, food that was grown in close proximity to the point of purchase. Buying locally ensures that the money stays within the community, allowing farmers to continue their work and keeping their organic farming areas clean. Local produce also means maximum freshness and a minimal amount of transportation, which hurts both the produce and the environment.

Buying Organic

Buying organic is always a good idea, but it’s more important in some foods than in others. Certain types of produce, specifically those which have little outside skin, are more prone to pesticides, and should always be bought organically. These produce items include:

  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Carrots
  • Grapes
  • Lettuce
  • Strawberries
  • Peaches

On the other hand, produce items with thicker skins (or that are consumed after peeling) don’t require strict adherence to the organic form. These items can generally be bought safely in conventional form:

  • Bananas
  • Corn
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Avocado
  • Kiwi

Cost of Organic Produce

Producing organic foods can be expensive for farmers, with organic feed costing twice what normal feed costs. Additionally, most organic farms are too small to receive subsidies from the government. Because of the difficulties facing organic farmers, organic foods are commonly perceived to be more expensive than conventional foods.

However, a 2008 study showed that organic foods at Whole Foods were actually cheaper than their normal counterparts that were sold at Safeway. Items like ketchup, pasta sauce, apples, and milk proved to be less expensive in organic form than in conventional form. Though Whole Foods is perhaps the best-known retailer of organic foods, the cheapest organic produce and other organic foods are almost always found locally.

Importance of Whole Foods

As it stands now, genetically modified foods must pass safety tests, and therefore aren’t considered to be risky. However, the lack of research on GMOs means the real dangers of these foods will only be known years later. Therefore, it’s best to avoid GMOs altogether and stick largely to whole foods that are made organically.

Nutritionists recommend a diet that consists of 70 percent of whole foods, and for good reason. Buying whole foods means just that – all of the nutritional benefits of a food are present instead of mere fragments, as is the case with genetically modified foods. For instance, sweeteners such as sugar often miss out on the water and nutrients that are available in whole food form. Additionally, non-organic white rice and flour is missing fiber and nutrients that are found in their organic counterparts. This makes whole foods an essential component of a healthy lifestyle, which can help people manage diabetes and other conditions, as well as reduce fatigue and lower blood pressure.