Why Organic? Non-Organic versus Organic Food

Why Organic? Non-Organic versus Organic Food

Most pots of honey and bags of tea that bear the Shelgo Tea name are organic. This was the case when we first launched and it will remain to be the case for as long as we are active. We believe that organic is better, and many consumers seem to agree with us on that.

But is organic actually healthier? And if so, just how dangerous are pesticides?

What is Organic?

For an organic classification to be used in the United Kingdom, the product needs to be at least 95% organic, at which point it can display the EU organic logo. (1) This does not mean that it has been grown without the use of pesticides, but rather it means that it has been grown without the use of synthetic pesticides and chemicals.

Organic pesticides are still used to protect organic crops from pests. These can include formulas made from spices, essential oils, minerals, alcohol, and more.

There are far fewer pesticides approved for use on organic crops and the process for approval is considerably stricter. Different countries have different rules with regards to organic certifications, and what is allowed in one country may not be allowed in another.

Are Pesticides Dangerous?

This is a contentious issue. At the one extreme, you have people who claim that pesticides are responsible for everything from increased suicide rates to the plummeting bee population, and at the other extreme, you have those who insist they are perfectly safe. The truth, as is so often the case, is probably somewhere in the middle.

The Food Standards Agency has very strict guidelines concerning the use of pesticides but admit that residue may remain on the food by the time it reaches the consumer. (2) Therein lies the issue for many proponents of organic produce, because the pesticides being used to protect food crops are known carcinogens and can cause serious health issues at higher doses. It’s not the sort of thing you want on your food at any level, even one deemed “safe” by regulatory bodies.

Pesticides are also very toxic to the local ecosystem. In 2018, the European Food Safety Authority confirmed that neonicotinoids, a class of pesticide previously authorised for use in the EU, posed a significant risk to bees. (3) And this came off the back of decades of controversy, with many suggesting that these pesticides were the cause of honey bee colony collapse disorder as well as the death of many species of birds.

Organic versus Non-organic

Clearly, consumers, manufacturers, and government regulators are not going to agree on the safety (or otherwise) of pesticides anytime soon. But there is one thing that many researchers are agreeing on: organic food is healthier.

One notable meta-analysis, conducted by a team of researchers at Newcastle University, showed a marked difference in antioxidant levels between organic and non-organic food, with the organic group containing between 19% and 69% more of these healthy compounds. (4)

The suggestion is that organic fruits, vegetables, and cereals produce more of these antioxidant compounds in order to fight pests, and because we know that higher levels of antioxidants are connected with lower levels of chronic disease, this bodes well for organic-leaning consumers.

Studies on organic milk and meat also suggest that organic is better,  as it contains a higher concentration of desirable fatty acids like CLA and omega-3, as well as nutrients like vitamin E. (5)

Of course, for every seemingly positive study there is a researcher ready to dismiss it, and this is also the case here. But whether you believe that organic food is more nutrient-rich or not, you can’t deny that it contains a lower concentration of potentially dangerous chemicals.

What is Organic Honey?

You can probably figure out what makes tea organic and non-organic, but what about honey? They can’t spray the bees with chemicals, right?

Thankfully, no, but chemicals are used in the production of non-organic honey. For a honey to be classified as “organic”, it needs to have been produced in a beehive that has not been treated with pesticides and to be located in an area that is also free of pesticides. This applies to the flowers from which the bees get their nectar, many organic classifications—including here in the UK—require these to be free from pesticides.

“Raw honey” is a different matter entirely. Honey is typically filtered to remove impurities and heated to pasteurise it. This practice ensures that no foreign organic or inorganic matter remains in the product. It also filters out a lot of the character of the honey, something that you can taste in every spoonful of raw honey.

Raw honey is still strained to remove beeswax and organic matter and it is also heated (but not overheated) so that it has a liquid consistency, which makes it easier to process.

Why is Organic More Expensive?

We believe that organic is always best and should always be chosen if available and affordable. In many cases, as with our own teas, “organic” is not synonymous with “overpriced” and is just as affordable as non-organic versions. However, this doesn’t apply to all produce.

It’s partly a result of supply and demand: the demand for organic produce is high but the supply is limited, which allows farmers and retailers to set the prices higher. A non-organic farmer can also enjoy a more bountiful harvest than an organic one thanks to the use of chemicals that kill pests and hasten growth.

By the time your organic vegetables reach your table, they have undergone more stringent tests, have taken longer to grow, and have cost the farmer more money. All of those costs are passed onto you, which is why organic produce tends to cost more than non-organic produce.

However, this price difference is decreasing as technological advancements make it easier than ever to grow organic crops.

Should You Buy Organic?

The price of organic produce is coming down, but it’s still higher than non-organic produce for the most part. If you can afford the extra cost and you’re concerned enough about your health to pay it, then it will no doubt seem like a worthwhile expense. If, however, you’re on a tight budget or you don’t buy into the notion that organic is safer and healthier, then your money is better spent elsewhere.

By eating less processed food, washing fruits and vegetables before consumption, and buying organic when the price is right, you’ll still be taking big leaps towards a healthier lifestyle.

If you’re interested in organic tea, take a look at our organic sideritis scardica from the mountains of Greece, or our all-organic herbal relaxing blend.

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