Take an apple and spray it with Raid fly killer.  Would you eat it?
Apples are the single most pesticide-contaminated produce item available at the supermarket (EWG, 2013). We live in a world that is overwhelmed by industrialised agricultural pollution, as concern for profit outweighs concern for people.

The growing and processing of food has seen the introduction of monoculture, intensive farming practices, mechanical plant harvesting and genetic manipulation to increase crop yields in a reduced number of plant species. The subsequent increased use of artificial fertilizers, chemical pesticides and herbicides to combat decreased resistance to disease is a multi-billion dollar industry for chemical corporations.

Pesticides, food, and health are inextricably linked in a vicious cycle. Pesticides contaminate water, aquatic sediment, the air, and reduce the nutrient content of he soil. Food, water and air provide the principal mediums of chemical absorption into our bodies. As the life-support systems of Earth are intimately connected, if the Earth is sick, so are we.

Food we consume on a daily basis that should nourish and sustain good health, often contain residues of the pesticides used to grow it  (Watts, 2010). Non-organic meat such as chicken and beef contain residues of additives and pesticides in stock feed, growth hormones, steroids and antibiotics (Haas, 2006).

There is little long-term research on the health impacts of chronic, low-level pesticide exposures. However, exposure to these toxins has been linked to brain and central nervous system disruption, infertility, cancer, and prenatal pesticide exposures to ADHD, low birth weight, and lower IQ in children  (Smallwood, 2012).

The human body does not have the enzymes necessary to break down, metabolise or eliminate these synthetic chemicals (Haas, 2006). The cumulative damaging effect of repeated small exposures to these toxins in our body is insidious and manifests slowly over time, disrupting cellular metabolic processes or damaging DNA directly, causing mutation and stimulating abnormal cell division. Chemicals also generate excessive free radicals that can contribute to cell damage by attacking cell structure  (Pignéguy & Pignéguy, 2007).

Adopting an organic, whole food based diet, preferably seasonal & local, whilst limiting refined and processed foods, can often be enough to maintain good health.

According to the Soil & Health Association of New Zealand, the term “organic” refers to the production of optimum quality food, in sufficient quantity, in an integrated agro-ecosystem that is sustainable, humane, and non-polluting. “It avoids or excludes the use of synthetically compounded fertilisers, pesticides, growth regulators, livestock feed additives, antibiotic and hormone stimulants and all genetically modified organisms, using instead cultural, biological and mechanical methods” (Soil & Health Association of New Zealand, 2013).

Five reasons to choose organic:

  1. To ensure there are no pesticide residues from growing the food, or additives and additional chemicals used in processing the food you bring home.
  2. Increased nutritional content: Better soil management and fertilization practices, especially in biodynamic systems, increase the nourishment of organic produce (Maeder et al., 2002) and ultimately our bodies. Comparative research data on organic and conventional crops showed that “organic crops contained significantly more vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus and significantly less nitrates” with “less protein but of a higher quality and a higher content of nutritionally significant minerals with lower amounts of heavy metals”  (Worthington, 2001).
  3. Protect future generations from the effects of pesticides, genetically modified ingredients (GM), and other chemicals in food and the environment. There is not much research available on the health effects of genetically modified (GM) foods.  However, there is potential for unexpected or unpredictable risks for human health and the environment. View a detailed evidence based report on GMO’s: http://earthopensource.org/files/pdfs/GMO_Myths_and_Truths/GMO_Myths_and...
  4. Promote biodiversity of crops, work with nature, and embrace traditional knowledge and local input for an ecologically sustainable future.
  5. Protect global health: Help build healthy soil, combat erosion, support water conservation and health, and fight global warming. Organic farming practices increase the capture of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by 15-28% and incorporate it into the soil (Sayre, 2003).

Five tips for buying organic on a budget:

  1. Buy locally grown foods – support your bustling local farmers markets, utilize roadside orchard stalls, or search for organic produce in your local area. Money stays within the community and strengthens local economy.
  2. Buy in-season produce, which are cheapest when they are in plentiful supply. Also buy in bulk, then dry, pickle or preserve the excess.
  3. Make wise organic purchases: The Environmental Working Group (EWG) provide a yearly update on The Dirty Dozen - a list of the most pesticide-contaminated produce, and The Clean Fifteen - showing foods least likely to test positive for pesticide residue.
    As an affordable way to avoid toxic chemicals, you can download a handy PDF version of the guide, or an app for your phone here: http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/
  4. Grow your own: Become empowered by growing your own produce organically.  You will never forget the taste of your first homegrown, sun-kissed, freshly picked tomato…
  5. Start a food co-operative and collaborate with like-minded families in your area to buy wholesale dry goods in bulk from Chantal Organics or Ceres.

Organics in New Zealand (and the world) is a growing market – Organics Aotearoa New Zealand (OANZ, 2012) report that the total value of the organic sector in NZ is $350 million, a growth of 25% since 2009.

As organics make its way into the mainstream, choosing to live an organic, sustainable life has benefits for our environment and for ourselves. A well nourished and healthy person is more able to actively take care of themselves, teach good habits to others who, by making healthy informed choices, positively impact the health of the community and the planet (Food Matters, 2013).

Nevertheless, the health advantages of consuming a diet rich in conventionally grown fruits and vegetables is far better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all (EWG, 2013).

Though if you had to choose just one item to buy organic, make it apples.

Vanessa Gargiulo
Student Naturopath

Environmental Working Group (EWG) (2013), Executive Summary: EWG's 2013 Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce, Available from: http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php [Accessed 14 October 2013]

Food Matters (2013), Organics, Available from: http://www.foodmatters.tv/health-resources/organics [Accessed 17 October 2013]

Haas, E. (2006), Staying Healthy with Nutrition: The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine, New York: Random House Inc.

Maeder, P. Fliessbach, A. Dubois, D. Gunst, L. Fried, P. Niggli, U. (2002), Soil Fertility and biodiversity in organic farming, Science, Vol. 296 (5573), 1694-1697.

Organics Aotearoa New Zealand (OANZ), (2012), New Zealand Organic Market Report 2012, Available from: http://www.oanz.org/ [Accessed 15 October 2013]

Pignéguy, D. & Pignéguy, T. (2007), Feed Me Right, Auckland: Papawai Press.

Sayre, L. (2003), Organic farming combats global warming... big time, Available from: http://www.newfarm.org/depts/NFfield_trials/1003/carbonsequest_print.shtml [Accessed 17 October 2013]

Smallwood, M. (2012), Why Organic? Available from Rodale Institute: http://rodaleinstitute.org/2012/why-organic/ [Accessed 17 October 2013]

Soil & Health Association of New Zealand (2013), What is Organic? Available from: http://www.organicnz.org.nz/organic/what [Accessed 14 October 2013]

Watts, M. (2010, September), Pesticides: Sowing Poison, Growing Hunger, Reaping Sorrow, Available from: http://www.panap.net/sites/default/files/sowingpoisongrowinghunger_2nded... [Accessed 14 October 2013]

Worthington, V. (2001), Nutritional Quality of Organic Versus Conventioal Fruits, Vegetables, and Grains, The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine , Vol. 7 (2), 161-173.