“Are these strawberries organic?” my mother asks as she examines the produce at our local farmers’ market. Like many adults, she pays extra for the “organic” label on her fruits and vegetables. Her reasoning is simple— organic food is better for our health because it's free of chemicals. But, research suggests that this commonly-held belief isn’t exactly true.
Insider published a review of 237 different studies revealing that the pesticides in conventional food only slightly increase the phosphorus levels of food, a level small enough to have no effect on health. The source concludes that organic food in fact is not “healthier” than conventional food. In fact, ongoing research explains that strict regulations force organic farmers to use a limited amount of pesticides, sometimes forcing them to use harsher chemicals on their crops.
So, if organic food doesn’t have any health benefits, why is the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) investing millions of dollars into supporting organic farmers? Well, organic food does have a benefit— an environmental benefit.
Dr. Jessica Shade explains that unlike conventional farming, organic farming uses natural sources of soil amendments that contain much larger proportions of humin, humic acid and fulvic acid. These absorbing compounds boost the process of carbon sequestration, or the process of absorbing carbon dioxide from the air and storing it in the soil as a method of soil restoration. Carbon sequestration effectively reduces the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air. Empirically, Shade explains that farms that had turned organic saw an increase in carbon stored in their soil. A study reported by Mongabay reveals that only a 0.9% increase in organic farming results in 0.37 gigatons more of carbon sequestering and a 3% decrease in total greenhouse gasses in the air.
Further, a study by the MDPI tests the effects of carbon sequestration, revealing that carbon sequestration through organic farming was responsible for a 39% decrease in carbon dioxide in the air per unit of produce in comparison to conventional crops.
Organic farming also reduces the amount of nitrous oxide in the air. Nitrous oxide, or N2O, is a deadly greenhouse gas that is almost 300 times as powerful or potent as carbon dioxide and lasts in the air for over 100 years until it is destroyed. In fact, nitrous oxide has been labeled as “the single most important ozone-depleting emission, and is expected to remain the largest throughout the 21st century.”
As of now, the US agricultural sector is a major culprit, responsible for 80% of nitrous oxide emissions. However, organic farming poses a solution because, in comparison to conventional fertilizer, organic fertilizer allows a gradual release of nitrogen due to its absorbent properties, which lowers the amount of nitrous oxide released into the atmosphere by the soil. Another study by MDPI tests two sections of farmland, one with organic fertilizer and the other with conventional fertilizer. After consistently measuring the amount of nitrous oxide released from both sections, they found that annual nitrous oxide emissions were reduced by approximately 38% with the organic fertilizer treatment.
Organic farming has been proven to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere, making it a better and more sustainable option for the environment. While organic food may not benefit our health, it, with no doubt, benefits the health of our environment.