Is organic food healthier?

Organic food can also avoid exposure to petroleum-based substances

3 min
A tractor ploughing a field

BarcelonaMany people wonder whether organic food is healthier and better for the environment. At the conference "Organic food", held at the City and Science Biennial and framed in Barcelona, the capital of sustainable food in 2021, has tried to give them an answer.

"So far, a great deal of work has been done to disseminate information about which foods are healthy, that is, which ones we should eat, and now we need to focus on what these foods should be like", explains Lola Raigon, professor of agricultural chemistry at the Universitat Politècnica de València. She is clear: they have to be organic. According to Raigon, "organic production improves the health of the environment, consumers and producers". "Protein foods of animal origin have more protein density and less fat, because animals are fed in a healthier way and do more exercise", she says. As for plant foods, "cereals and legumes have higher concentrations of protein, and vegetables have higher concentrations of vitamin C, minerals and antioxidants," she says. Despite this, there are other scientists who are not clear that organic foods are more nutritious than conventional ones.

Nicolás Olea, doctor and professor of radiology and physical medicine at the University of Granada, is also blunt: "All children in Spain urinate plastic monomers every day". According to Olea, "we are exposed to products that we can avoid". In his opinion, as petroleum by-products are now used almost everywhere (fertilizers, textile materials, cosmetics, fuels...). Exposure to these products is much greater today than it was a few decades ago. The problem is that it is still not known what long-term effects these exposures can have on children's health. Olea gives the example of two substances that have recently been banned: chlorpyrifos, an insecticide that acts on the nervous system of insects and which was banned in Spain in 2020, and bisphenol A, which is used to make plastic containers such as water bottles and baby bottles and which was banned in 2019. To reduce exposure to these and other substances, Olea thinks that "organic food is a good solution". But that's not enough: "We have to reduce consumption, reuse more and ask politicians to apply more scientific knowledge to regulation", he claims.

Invited as a non-consumer of organic food, the geologist Guillermo Tamburini confesses that he questions the current consumption model and shares the discourse of organic consumption, but does not put it into practice. Why? "It is difficult to change habits: we consume supermarket products just as we buy clothes in certain stores and use mobile phones", he explains. "And all these products are part of a model that degrades the environment," he adds. Tamburini believes that there are difficulties in taking the step towards organic products: "They are not as accessible and they are more expensive". In addition, he also argues that "it is misleading to think that with a change of individual behavior we will change the system of production of food or other products, as it is also misleading to think that we can completely change behavior within the system". "Social change is needed", he argues.

What kind of change? Laura Sánchez, a dietetic technician and regular consumer of organic products, explains that one way to promote this change is to "join consumer groups that buy directly from local organic producers who sell seasonal products". In this way, she says, "no packaging is used, products are transported short distances, they are not harvested green or stored in cold storage, so they taste better, and food is not thrown away because it does not meet supermarket standards of measurement or appearance".