In recent years, organic foods have become very popular among those who want to know the origin and conditions under which the products they consume on a daily basis were grown. For producers it means an opportunity to enter a high-value market.
Currently, all types of food are produced under organic protocols: meat, eggs, honey, olives, sugar, tea, coffee, legumes, fruits, vegetables, wines, oils and dairy, to name a few. In addition, there are derivatives and all variants, such as frozen, canned and sweet. In other words, all agricultural production and its corresponding agro-industry can be considered organic.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), those foods – generally vegetables and fruits – are considered organic, which at no stage of their production received the intervention of chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides, as well as neither in the soils where they are cultivated.
Healthy Eating details that for some, organic food means rich in nutrients, for others greater sanitary controls. There are even those who understand that it corresponds to the fact that they were produced without causing pollution or damaging the air, land and water as little as possible.
In reality, the positive characteristics attributed to organic products are difficult to establish as long as there is no general regulation or consensus. For example, for milk to be considered organic in theory, the cow must be fed 100% with grains that have not been genetically treated, or fertilized in its soils. Nor should you receive antibiotics or hormones.
However, depending on the destination market, organic certification can be obtained without having to comply with such strict regulations. It is important to remember that there are some minimal differences between regulation and certification in each market, such as the United States, the European Union, or Japan.
In fact, the amount of nutrients is similar in organic food as in conventional production. In vegetables, especially, the nutritional value is similar. But in meats it is proven that organic meats are leaner because they have less intramuscular fat. However, the great benefit of organic foods is that they contain considerably lower levels of chemical residues, or completely free of them.
FAO reveals that additives, preservatives (except natural ones), pesticides and fertilizers are generally not allowed. They also have less or no residues of veterinary drugs, do not contain hormones or heavy metals (present in soil and water) and cannot be irradiated. Healthy Eating details that conventional foods are irradiated to kill germs and promote their conservation. This occurs in meats, frozen foods, preserves, fruits and vegetables. Although it has been shown that this radiation is not highly harmful, it is difficult to know what effects it may have in the long term since this technique is relatively new.
There are studies that show that the animal that is raised naturally (feeding on fresh pastures, forages and organic grains) and without stress has special characteristics. For example, meat tends to have more vitamin E (which is an antioxidant), less intramuscular fat (not being immobilized in a feedlot), and produces less cholesterol in the consumer.
In addition, organic meats reduce or eliminate the risk of biological contamination, such as mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), foot-and-mouth disease, poisoning with Escherichia coli (industrial or homemade hamburgers), or salmonellosis (in eggs and birds). The certifiers strictly control the animal’s history from its birth to the end of the marketing chain in its different cuts and by-products through traceability.
This discussion is not organic versus conventional. In today’s globalized world, it is very difficult to stop using GMOs and agrochemicals. The important thing is that the population is well informed about the characteristics and differences between the production methods and, within their possibilities, they can choose the quality of the food they want to consume.