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Is Organic Food Healthier?

Each weekend, you stumble down to the cafeteria or a diner to wash away the previous evening’s sins. You order eggs, bacon and some toast. Grease sits in little pools in the ripples of the bacon. You down three sugary coffees. When you’re done, you wipe the oil on your pants. You feel the food coma coming on. This seems the easiest way to overcome the pain you currently feel, but the food’s bad for you and you’re probably eating too much of it.

As students, it’s sometimes tricky to know how to eat well and find the time and money to do so. So every Sunday this semester, nutrition student Anna Richardson brings you a column on about various issues of nutrition and  Melissa Danchak brings some simple recipes that you can make for cheap. 

By Anna Richardson

The term ‘organic’ has somehow become synonymous with ‘healthy’. Organic fruit, products made with organic ingredients, organically raised chickens. Sounds great, right? It’s never that simple – and still up for debate.

The term ‘organic’ refers to how a product was grown and processed. Organic produce is grown without the use of synthetic pesticides and herbicides, bioengineered genes, or petroleum-based fertilizers. Organically raised animals are not given antibiotics and eat organic feed. The philosophy behind organic farming was to return to a simpler agriculture, without using harmful products and to respect the health of ecosystems and humans alike. Has it succeeded? We’re not sure.

‘Big organic’ now seems be just as large and perhaps as harmful as its pesticide-loving counterpart, modern agriculture.  Organic farms are now mainly owned by the same companies that they were meant to oppose, such as General Mills, Kraft and even Coca-Cola. Organic food is now a billion dollar industry, not a humble alternative to the conventional. Nearly every food product now has its own organic version, at a much higher price. Is it worth the extra bucks? It is even healthier?

Most studies comparing organic and conventional produce show little difference in their nutritional quality. In a 2010 meta-analysis of studies on organic foods, Rosen et al. found that most studies are inconclusive. This isn’t the only measure of health – pesticide residues and their effects is a large area of research that is still evolving.  These residues can build up in our tissues and may be problematic for pregnant women, developing fetuses, or those with compromised immune systems. The depth of these issues is unknown, a systematic 2006 study by Ritter et al. concluded.

As students, it’s hard to justify shelling out the extra cash on a seemingly identical product. Fortunately, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out a yearly list of the most and least pesticide-ridden fruits and vegetables, to help you decide which ones to buy organic. The worst offenders? Apples, celery, and bell peppers have the highest levels of pesticides. Onions, corn and pineapples rank the lowest for pesticides and buying conventional should be fine.

Remember – buying organic does not necessarily mean healthier food. Organic cookies, chips, and bacon aren’t the best choices. Food marketing is powerful!


Organic Labelling

A government-designated verification body must certify food products bearing an organic label.

‘Organic’: The product is at least 95% organic contents. The label ‘100% organic’ is not permitted in Canada.

‘Contains organic ingredients’: The product is 70-95% organic contents.

If a product is less than 70% organic, it cannot be labelled organic.

Check out to see their list of produce.


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