Courtesy of Dani Orlandi

Nutrition senior Rachel Del Toro-Gipson owns a health and wellness blog called “Viva La Vegan.” However, she chooses not to spend extra money on organic produce.

Organic foods have a reputation of being healthier and better for the environment than conventional foods, yet there is still some debate about whether they live up to that reputation.

A 2014 Gallup poll found that 45 percent of Americans actively seek out organic foods, 15 percent actively avoid them and 38 percent don’t consider how their food is produced when shopping.

What’s the difference?

Organic food is grown without artificial chemicals. This includes avoiding the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to alter the DNA of the plant seed to make the produce more appealing or larger.

Conventional farming methods rely on synthetic chemicals to create pesticides and antibiotics used for production and preservation. These chemicals are used in several ways, such as adding nutrients into the crop soil or enhancing crop seeds with GMOs. Organic farming methods avoid the use of most synthetic chemicals

Graphic by Dani Orlandi

The Cal Poly preference

Many Cal Poly students say they would prefer to eat organic food, but high prices and lack of availability are sometimes obstacles.

“I think that it’s good to have [food] that isn’t necessarily super processed or has a lot of genetic modifications … Definitely not having as many pesticides is a good thing because they don’t have a lot of long term studies on the effects of pesticides or how it will affect you,” Del Toro-Gipson said.

Avoiding the use of synthetic chemicals to preserve produce and opting for a more natural way of production sounds like a better way to get food, so why doesn’t everyone jump on the organic food trend?

Disproving myths
Cal Poly registered dietitian Megan Coats hears all the stereotypical beliefs about organic and conventional food. She sees the positives and negatives that come with each production method.

“The most misconceptions I hear from students, or people in general, is that [organic] is healthier … but it’s really just looking at the practices that are used by the producer or food manufacturer when it comes to chemicals or pesticide residues,” Coats said.

Video by Katie Stark

There are no studies or scientific evidence that suggests eating organic is healthier or more rich in nutrients. In fact, many organic fruits and vegetables found on local shelves spend more time in transit than conventional, locally produced food. According to Coats, this means the produce is not as nutritious because as time passes, fruits and vegetables lose nutrients.

Combine this with a 40 percent more for organic produce price statistic and the choice to eat organic becomes less black and white.

The environmental factor
Another reason cited for eating organic relates to environmental factors and world population.

Agricultural communication professor Scott Vernon has worked with both organic and conventional farmers in his career. Vernon cites world population as a major factor to consider when debating the merits of organic vs. conventional food.

“When you consider the global environment and the needs of our global population, which is growing to be 9.2 billion by 2050, we have to increase our food production by 70 percent in the next 30 years or so, with declining resources,” Vernon said.

The demand to feed the vastly growing population requires farmers to increase their annual supply. To do so, sustainable agriculture must be “economically viable, socially responsible and ecologically sound.” Unfortunately, organic produce doesn’t match this criteria.

“With that said, when you look at the organic side, organic production is a method of production.  There’s nothing inherently wrong about it,” Vernon said. “But it takes more resources, it takes more labor and it’s not without inputs, and inputs being plant protection, inputs, chemicals.”

While the great debate between organic and conventional production can be blurry at times, American consumers have the fortune to be able to choose foods based on the production values and prices that match their lifestyle.

“So both have value and they have a place, and the nice thing is, that American consumers have a choice,” Vernon said. “Their choice is how much they want to spend for their food.”

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