Organic vs. conventional

The organic versus conventional produce controversy has been around for many years, yet there still seems to be a lot of misinformation swirling around the health and safety of pesticides.

Some people believe that conventionally produced fruits or vegetables are not safe to consume because of the pesticides used to produce them. As a result of this, Certified Organic labels have become increasingly popular as more people are paying closer attention to their health and nutrition and assume that this is the only way to have a safe product.

In actuality, organic and conventional foods are both healthy, nutritious, and safe to consume, they are just produced differently.

For a farmer to have a Certified Organic label approved by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) they must meet specific standards. There are different classifications underneath the organic category so it’s important to know what each means. UC Davis Integrative Medicine lists the requirements for each organic classification below:

“USDA Organic” and “Certified Organic”: For a fruit or vegetable to have this seal, it means they are certified to be 95% free of synthetic additives like chemical fertilizers, dyes, and pesticides. Equally, they can’t be genetically engineered or processed using irradiation or industrial solvents. The other 5% of ingredients could include additives or synthetics if they are on an approved USDA list. The label must identify the organic and non-organic ingredients in the product and contain the name of the organic certifier.

“100% Organic”: These are products that meet the 95% criteria above and do not contain any other foods or additives, synthetics, chemicals or pesticides or genetically engineered substances. The label must show an ingredient list, the name and address of the handler of the finished product, and the name and seal of the organic certifier.

“Made with Organic” Ingredients: This label means that the product has been made with at least 70% organic ingredients. However, the remaining 30% cannot possess any of the processed foods or additives included on the USDA exclusion list. The label must identify the organic and non-organic ingredients in the product along with the name of the organic certifier.

However, just because a product is labeled as “organic” doesn’t mean it has no pesticides. Farmers who grow organic certified produce can use approved synthetic products, as well as “natural” pesticides.

If a farmer is conventional, meaning they use synthetics, this doesn’t mean they are dousing their crops in chemicals. Since these products are costly for farmers to use, they are used carefully and frugally to prevent over-use and to remain effective. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists the different kinds of pesticides that are used to target specific “pests” in agriculture:

•Algaecides to kill and/or slowing the growth of algae.

•Antimicrobials to control germs and microbes such as bacteria and viruses.

•Disinfectants to control germs and microbes such as bacteria and viruses.

•Fungicides to control fungal problems like molds, mildew, and rust.

•Herbicides to kill or inhibit the growth of unwanted plants, also known as weeds.

•Insecticides to control insects.

•Insect Growth Regulators to disrupt the growth and reproduction of insects.

•Rodenticides to kills rodents like mice, rats, and gophers.

•Wood Preservatives to make wood resistant to insects, fungus and other pests.

Pesticides in our food system seems scary when the use of them is misunderstood. They are used for a reason, though.

Quality produce must be protected from outside elements and the practice of using chemicals means the food supply is stronger.

The EPA also lists some of the health issues that can arise from pests if they are not treated in the crop, and while these may be extreme, it’s still important that they are prevented, and pesticides are effective in doing so. These health problems include:

•Vector-Borne Diseases

•Asthma and Allergies

•Microbial Contamination

•Avian Flu



Experts note that just because one has different kinds of pesticides compared to the other, it doesn’t make it less nutritious. The nutrients remain the same, and there is no study confirming that organic leads to a healthier person according to UC Davis Health. What it boils down to is consumer preference.

Diversity in agriculture means a stronger food system and more opportunities for farmers to have a successful business and consumers to have a choice. Not every farmer can or should utilize natural pesticides, and not every consumer can afford to buy organic. Luckily, there is a need, and demand, for all kinds of food types and because they are all regulated by food safety organizations, consumers can trust their food is safe and healthy.

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