Just like the Brad-Jen-Angelina controversy, the debate over organic food seems never ending; every week a new story hits the headlines over whether eco-friendly food is better for us, or not worth the bother. The latest research comes from respected consumer publication Which?, whose gardening magazine revealed veggies grown with pesticides and fertilisers contained more anti-oxidants and had more flavour than their organic counterparts.
On the surface, it looks like organic food has lost this particular fight, but closer inspection reveals the Which? study has simply added another layer to the 'is it or isn't it better for you?' debate. The study was only carried out on three veggies – potatoes, tomatoes and broccoli – hardly representative of all organic produce. Plus, it didn't assess the overall impact of organic farming, such as using fewer pesticides on the plants and less fertilisers on the land. The Soil Association – the voice of organic food in the UK – dismissed the study, saying it's too small to have any significance when you compare it to the overwhelming body of evidence showing organic produce is better for us. They also criticised Which? for using chemicals on the soil, especially those that have been shown to contribute to the decline of the bee population.
I don't know how Which? found non-organic veg was more nutritious or tastier than organic, but it does remind me of an earlier study. In 2006, Scottish researchers pitted organic chickens against battery birds. In taste tests, people preferred the intensively reared chickens. It transpired that battery chickens are pumped full of extra nutrients while they're alive – essentially to keep them alive – then their flesh is injected with extra water, flavourings and preservatives once they've been slaughtered. Our taste buds have become so conditioned to the salt and extra flavourings in chicken meat that the proper taste of organic chicken was turning people off. I can't believe our food production system is so warped that people now prefer fake flavours to the taste of real food.
I'm happy to stick my hand up and say I'm a big fan of organic food, but I don't buy it just for the end product, the actual food. I want to support the entire system of organic food production; the welfare of the animals, the way the land is treated, and the impact on the wider environment, such as preserving hedgerows or protecting insects that feed birds and beasts higher up the food chain. Organic food also involves the medicines used to keep the animals healthy, reintroducing natural pesticides, supporting farmers, and ensuring we can continue farming without stripping the land and our animals of all their health-giving properties for generations to come. For me, this is worth going organic.
People may complain that organic food costs more than non-organic, but organic food is often much cheaper than many supermarket premium brands. And why do we buy these luxury ranges? Possibly because we know value brands are not particularly great for us, or the land and the animals involved. So, next time you're tempted to put a top-of-the-range item in your trolley, swap it for an organic version instead. Your conscience and your wallet – not to mention your health, the animals and the environment – will thank you for it.