You can feel virtuous about more than just the environment if you eat organic food. It has many other benefits too:
More jobs created
By using traditional farming techniques, such as hand weeding, organic farms offer more employment opportunities to hard-pressed rural communities. In Germany, for example, organic farms employ 10-20 per cent more people than conventional farms. Overall labour requirements tend to be 10-30 per cent higher; in addition, many organic farms provide new business opportunities nearby, such as box schemes.
Better for health
By eating organic your chances of avoiding any synthetic chemical residues in your food are higher. These chemicals are increasingly being linked with damage to the nervous system, birth defects, cancer, dropping fertility levels, and other human ailments. Most governments do set minimum acceptable levels allowed in food but few take into account the effect of eating a variety of these residues - the 'cocktail effect' - or adjust these levels when considering children's intake.
In 1999, a UK government report found that there has been a significant increase in the quantity of fresh fruit and vegetables containing pesticide residues, up from 33 per cent to 43 per cent of samples. And most of these residues do not wash off easily since many are designed to withstand rain, and some are designed to actually enter the plant, ruling out peeling as a way of getting rid of them.
Pesticides do not just threaten your health; they are also incredibly dangerous for farm workers worldwide. It has been reported that 40,000 people are killed every year due to pesticide exposure and the World Health Organization found that up to 30 per cent of Latin American farm workers it tested showed signs of exposure to organophosphates, chemicals linked with serious health damage.
Organic crops are also believed to be healthier in terms of their chemical structure. Recent research in Germany, Denmark and Switzerland has found that organic produce has higher nutrient levels when compared with conventional produce.
If you eat organic you are also less likely to be eating food that contains antibiotic residues, since organic farmers are not allowed to routinely give their animals antibiotics as a preventive medical measure or in the form of growth promoters. The use of antibiotics has increased by 1,500 per cent in the past 30 years, and 65 per cent of all antibiotics are used in conventional farming. It is widely believed that this overuse of antibiotics in farming has led to worrying levels of antibiotic-resistance in humans, leaving us with fewer weapons against infection, and the rise of drug-resistant superbugs such as MRSA.
Lastly, organic food can help reduce the problems associated with food safety such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). There has not been a case in any herd in full organic management prior to 1985. Given that organic standards do not permit the use of animal-based products in feed, the BSE crisis in Europe, with its huge cost to the taxpayer, could probably have been avoided altogether if organic farming had been the norm.
The risk of food poisoning should also be lower if you eat organic, especially organic meat. This is because factory farming often keeps animals in such cramped and stressful conditions that disease is more likely.