Not too long ago you had to go to special shops if you wanted organic food. Now you can find plenty in supermarkets, but mostly you’ll pay a pretty high premium over the cost of standard produce. Is it really worth it?
The answer’s not clear-cut. While organic farming can be better for the environment, the jury’s still out on whether organic food is more nutritious and tastes better. Research is ongoing.
It is possible that organic fruit and vegetables contain less water and more concentrated vitamins, minerals and other plant chemicals. Circumstantial evidence suggests they could have more beneficial phytochemicals, such as antioxidants. Plants produce phytochemicals to defend themselves, and without pesticides to protect them, organic plants might produce more. But the research is complex and results aren’t definitive.
Research from the US and Europe suggests good things about the nutritional value of some organic animal produce. However, it’s not clear whether this translates to Australian farming practices, which are often very different.
In this report, we take a look at some typical organic foods now available in many local supermarkets — how much more you’ll pay and what is known about any differences between the organic and standard versions.
‘Certified organic’ produce is the best guarantee you’ll get what you pay for. Wherever we talk about organic food in this article, we mean certified organic.
Please note: this information was current as of July 2007 but is still a useful guide today.
Organic agriculture methods can be better for the environment than conventional methods because they don’t use synthetic chemicals like pesticides or herbicides. There are no genetically modified inputs, and the philosophy incorporates a respect for the natural order of seasons and animal behaviour.
Organic animals are free-range and there’s no use of growth promoters such as steroids or hormones. And you may find a wider range of varieties of fruit and vegetables than with conventional produce.
However, organic produce isn’t guaranteed free of all chemical residues (they can drift in from other areas or persist in the soil). But independent testing consistently finds fewer, and lower, levels of residues of pesticides, herbicides and other farming chemicals than in conventional produce. That said, the jury is still out about whether it’s in fact safer than conventional produce.
On the global scale, there’s debate about whether organic agriculture can produce enough food to feed the world.
One thing’s certain: organic food does cost more — our survey of supermarkets found it often costs two or even three times as much.