To buy or not to buy: organic

blueberries

Trying to make decisions about what to buy in the supermarket can be difficult enough, not to mention when ‘organic’ gets thrown in the mix. Is it really worth spending that extra 50p? Keep reading for a brief guide to organic farming and how to buy organic on a budget. We’ve found that it can be possible on a student budget if you stick with a few simple rules

What does ‘organic’ mean?

Foods officially labeled “organic” are produced under strictly regulated guidelines. In the UK, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs regulates the certification of organic food, but guidelines on organic food production, labelling and trade are set in EU law. The official label “organic” is used to differentiate products that have been produced in a way that values natural and holistic farming methods in order to both protect the environment and human & animal health (1). Organic farms are inspected at least once a year to ensure that they follow the principles below.

Some organic regulations:

Plants

  • artificially created chemical fertilisers are banned
  • use of pesticides is restricted
  • use of genetically modified (GM) crops is prohibited
  • farmers must support biodiversity and water quality through crop rotation and responsible farming

Animals

  • animals must be reared ‘free range’ with access to fields (3)
  • animals cannot be given preventative medicines
  • animals may not be given hormones to affect their development
  • at least 85% of the feed given to livestock must be organic, and GM feed is prohibited (2)
  • 100% of the feed given to beef and dairy cows must be organic (2)
  • Practices are controlled to minimise animal suffering (3)

What are the benefits of buying organic food?

Organic fruits and vegetables are less likely to contain chemical pesticide/fertiliser residues and organic animal products will not contain hormones or antibiotics that could adversely affect your health.

Organic farming practices are more supportive of biodiversity, groundwater and soil quality and animal welfare

What foods are most important to buy organic?

1. Animal products (meat, dairy, eggs)

2. Fruits and Vegetables with the greatest average pesticide residues

  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Grapes
  • Chilli peppers & bell peppers
  • Nectarines & peaches
  • Potatoes
  • Leafy greens, especially spinach
  • Berries

How to buy organic on a budget

  1. Be selective about what you buy organic, prioritise animal products and thin-skinned fruits and vegetables (see above)
  2. Cook more from scratch. Ready-made organic items like granola bars and smoothies are usually cheaper if you make them yourself
  3. Sign up to an organic veg-box scheme (here is a list for Scotland) – buying produce from your local farmers is often cheaper
  4. Buy in bulk and use your freezer, especially for freezing fruits/vegetables for when they’re out of season
  5. Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) scheme (here is a UK-wide list)
  6. Plan your meals in advance to avoid waste
  7. Buy store-cupboard staples online. This UK site offers discounts for buying larger amounts, but there are plenty of online shops that offer competitive prices

– Kasia

(1) http://www.soilassociation.org/whatisorganic/organicfarming

(2) http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/organic/organic-farming/what-organic/the-farm_en

(3) http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/organic/animal-welfare/husbandry_en

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One thought on “To buy or not to buy: organic

  1. Good article. I think it’s worth it to buy organic, not on any given day, but over a span of 10 years or so, absolutely. The effects of unhealthy food build up over time — and the same is true for clean food. The way I think of it is, it’s like investing for retirement, but actually much more important 🙂

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