There are many myths and questions surrounding organic foods and farming methods. Is organic food better for you? Is it safer? Do organic farmers care more about the environment and their animals? Let’s tackle the top myths about organic farming head-on.
Myth 1: Organic farms don’t use pesticides
Organic doesn’t mean pesticide free. There are over 8,000 branded pest-control products approved for organic farming under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Organic Program, which regulates foods using the USDA Organic label. Organic doesn’t mean chemical-free either, since literally everything is made up of chemicals — from water to iPhones to food to even you and me. We are made of chemicals and need chemicals to survive. Whether or not a chemical is synthetic or natural tells you nothing about it’s safety. Many organic pesticides are very similar to conventional products, just with an inert ingredient or two changed.
Just like humans, plants need protection from diseases and pests. Pesticides are a useful tool for protecting plants to minimize yield loss and produce a high-quality product. No one wants to buy diseased or bug-ridden produce. Overwhelmingly, pesticide application is done responsibly by trained professionals and is highly regulated. There are many checks and balances to ensure your food is safe. Sometimes organic farms even need to use more pesticides than their non-organic counterparts. It comes down to pest pressure, not the label on the farm.
Myth 2: Organic foods are safer than conventional (non-organic)
Non-organically produced foods are just as safe as organic. A 2022 report from the USDA found, yet again, that more than 99 percent of samples tested had pesticide residues well below the benchmark levels set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This report includes over 9,600 samples taken in 2020 and marks the 30th anniversary of the program. The USDA, EPA, and Food and Drug Administration work together to ensure that your food is safe, both organic and non-organic. You don’t need to fear conventional produce.
The same is true for animal products. All meat, milk, and eggs you buy in the store are safe. Meat must be inspected by a USDA inspector in order for it to be sold in the U.S., many states also have state inspectors as well. All milk is tested numerous times from cow to store to ensure quality and safety. Milk must test free of antibiotics in order to be sold for human consumption. Eggs are also carefully monitored for quality and safety.
Myth 3: Organic foods are more nutritious
Organic does not automatically mean healthier. Less nutrient-dense foods like potatoes chips and candy can be certified organic — that doesn’t make them particularly healthy. Organic foods are no more nutritious than their conventionally produced counterparts. Both have similar levels of nutrients, and there’s no conclusive evidence that organic foods are any healthier.
Myth 4: Organic farms are more sustainable
Regardless of label, farmers care about sustainability, because not only is it the right thing to do, but because our livelihoods are tied to the land, water, and air. You can’t continue to keep farming the same piece of land for decades or centuries without looking after it. Organic farms are not necessarily more sustainable than non-organic farms. Technology in agriculture has allowed us to produce more while using fewer resources. Because of the rules surrounding organic farming, organic crops have lower yields and require more land for the same amount of production. If all of U.S. agriculture was shifted to organic methods, 100 million more acres of farmland would be needed.
Myth 5: Organic farmers care more about animal welfare
Both organic and non-organic farmers care about their animals. As farmers, we all have an ethical obligation as stewards of our animals. High standards of animal welfare make sense because happy healthy animals grow better and produce more high-quality and wholesome products. Animal welfare and profitability go hand in hand. There are many ways to raise livestock well. There is no single “best” way.
Myth 6: Only organic farms are family farms
Farming, whether organic or not, is a family business. About 98 percent of all farms in the U.S. are family-owned, according to the USDA. Just like no two families look the same, no two farms look exactly the same. Just because a farm is large does not mean they don’t care about their animals, the environment, or the quality of the product they produce. It also does not make them a “factory farm,” which is a term many anti-agriculture activists like to use to disparage larger farms. The “big is bad, small is good, and conventional is bad, organic is good” narrative paints a falsely black-and-white image of the incredibly diverse field of agriculture.
Myth 7: Organic food companies are honest in their marketing
Unfortunately some organic food companies and activist organizations (such as Only Organic) use misinformation, like the above myths, in order to sell their products by disparaging non-organic farms. This “us vs them” mentality needs to stop. It’s not OK to lie and mislead people. It’s even worse to increase unnecessary fear of our food supply. Eventually no one will know who to trust anymore, which isn’t good for anyone. Organic food companies can promote their products without bashing and spreading misinformation about conventional food.
Shouldn’t we be supporting other farmers? Shouldn’t we be promoting sustainable farming practices that include modern technology? Shouldn’t we be basing our advertising and decisions of #FactsNotFear? Shouldn’t we be proud of the way we farm without bashing others who do things a little different?
Large or small, organic or not, honesty is key. We should support other farmers, and not tear down others who may farm a little differently. Agriculture is such a diverse field and there is more than one way to farm well.
Michelle Miller, the Farm Babe, is a farmer, public speaker, and writer who has worked for years with row crops, beef cattle, and sheep. She believes education is key in bridging the gap between farmers and consumers.