There is so much written about the organic certification of foods and food safety standards in general. Unfortunately, much of it is written by individuals working for companies who either don’t know any better or who are trying to confuse consumers. Should claims be made that agrichemicals are “cooked off” when a food product, such as an enteral formula, is heated. This is either wishful thinking or someone working from the ‘say it and it must be true’ model. I must admit as an advocate for organic and sustainable farming these past 28 years, it strikes a nerve when I see this information. No wonder there is so much confusion around the better choices we can make when this kind of misinformation is present.
While research indicates that some agrichemicals (there’s a lot more to being organic than eliminating pesticides) may be more susceptible to heat and high heat processing, they are not the norm. Out of all of the fumigants, fungicides, herbicides, pesticides and antibiotics used in conventional farming, only a small number drop off to lower levels after extended cooking times (1,2). No one should say that extended cooking eliminates chemicals, it is simply not true.
What about “domestically grown” meat? In order to raise domestic chickens and cows, for their meat, eggs and dairy, a wide variety of antibiotics and other drug residues make their way into the animals’ tissues and ultimately their meat. The vast majority of chemicals and antibiotics are simply not eliminated by cooking, and this is certainly the case with animal products. Both the USDA and FDA admit that antibiotic residues in US meat, chicken, and milk are a real concern.
Research shows that there is not only a dramatically lower concentration of agrichemicals but also significantly higher antioxidant levels (2,3). While some vitamin and mineral contents may be similar between conventional and organic produce, studies have consistently shown that organic vegetables have higher polyphenolic contents and these substances may be responsible for many of the health protective effects gained by eating more produce.
While there may be debate around particular aspects of consuming organic foods, even the most conservative assessments appreciate the reduced exposure to substances known to be detrimental to one aspect of human health or another. Whether it is the cognitive function of children or the sperm counts in men, exposures to conventional food with the inherent agrichemicals used in much of the current system carries significant risk (4,5). To state it any other way is just wrong.
Lastly, I would like to address quite possibly the most important part of the organic vs conventional conversation. What about the environment? Have we as a species become so egocentric that we have lost all appreciation for the rest of the world that we breathe, drink, swim and live in? Arguing that conventional agriculture is ok because cooking foods reduces a consumer’s exposure is both wrong and also very short-sighted. It says nothing about agricultural run-off, contaminated aquifers and water supplies, loss of soil life and soil microbes, for starters (6). What you chose to eat or feed your family is your choice, but everyone should be told the facts so they can make informed decisions.
~ John Bagnulo MPH, PhD.
1. Bajwa U, Sandhu KS. Effect of handling and processing on pesticide residues in food- a review. Journal of Food Science and Technology. 2014;51(2):201-220. doi:10.1007/s13197-011-0499-5.
2. Barański M, Średnicka-Tober D, Volakakis N, et al. Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses. The British Journal of Nutrition. 2014;112(5):794-811. doi:10.1017/S0007114514001366.
3. Grudzińska M, Czerko Z, Zarzyńska K, Borowska-Komenda M. Bioactive Compounds in Potato Tubers: Effects of Farming System, Cooking Method, and Flesh Color. Li X-Q, ed. PLoS ONE. 2016;11(5):e0153980. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0153980.
4. Smith-Spangler C, Brandeau ML, Hunter GE, Bavinger JC, Pearson M, Eschbach PJ, et al. Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?: A Systematic Review. Ann Intern Med. 2012;157:348–366. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-157-5-201209040-00007
5. Chiu Y-H, Gaskins AJ, Williams PL, et al. Intake of Fruits and Vegetables with Low-to-Moderate Pesticide Residues Is Positively Associated with Semen-Quality Parameters among Young Healthy Men. The Journal of Nutrition. 2016;146(5):1084-1092. doi:10.3945/jn.115.226563.
6. Mie A, Andersen HR, Gunnarsson S, et al. Human health implications of organic food and organic agriculture: a comprehensive review. Environmental Health. 2017;16:111. doi:10.1186/s12940-017-0315-4.