Is Eating Organic Really Better for You and the Environment?

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On average, organic food items are 47 percent more expensive than standard supermarket fare—but thanks to their purported health and environmental benefits, many shoppers still splurge on them. In fact, the total retail market for organic products in the United States was valued at over $39 billion in 2016. But while the organic industry means big business for farmers and food companies, the question still remains: Are organic foods actually better for both you and the environment?

In the video below, AsapSCIENCE co-creator and host Mitchell Moffit explains why eating organic may not be the panacea most people think it is. Contrary to popular belief, an organic diet isn't chemical-free. In fact, Moffit explains, organic farmers can still use natural pesticides and fungicides to keep crop-destroying insects at bay—and studies show that they aren’t necessarily better for you or the soil than synthetic ones.

Labels tend to be misleading, too. If a food product’s package simply says “organic,” it only has to contain 95 percent organic ingredients. (This percentage is even lower with items labeled “made with organic ingredients” or “containing organic ingredients.”) And in some cases, chemicals or ingredients are the least of a shopper’s worries: In 2015, organic foods had accounted for 7 percent of recalled foods units as of August of that year, thanks in part to incidents of potential bacterial contamination.

Even if you’re extra-careful to only consume food that’s labeled “100 percent organic,” the jury’s still out on whether it’s good for you or the environment. In 2012, Stanford University scientists published a meta-analysis of 237 studies concluding that organic fruits and veggies don’t provide more nutritional benefits than regular produce. Meanwhile, a study published in the journal Nature in 2012 found that organic crop yields are much lower than conventional ones. They require more farmland for growth, and put a greater strain on the environment.

Adding to the confusion, other studies suggest that organic farming methods can actually increase important nutrients in foods, and some agricultural experts say they improve soil quality. In short, there’s no surefire answer for whether or not you're wasting your money at Whole Foods—but at the end of the day, "production methods vary greatly for both organic and conventional foods from one farm to another," Moffit points out.

[h/t Science Alert]

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