Farmers’ markets and the organic food isle have become a popular destination for growing families, the healthy eater and the environmentally conscious alike. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the number of direct-sales markets has increased 9.6 percent in the past year, with California and New York topping the list.

With the increase of organic eating and the high prices that come with it, one should question if eating organically is better for the consumer, the environment or both.

There are two main reasons to eat organic. One is that there are fewer pesticides in organic food.

Pesticides are substances that prevent or destroy pests, such as insects, plant pathogens, weeds, mollusks, birds, etc., that could have an effect on crops. A pesticide is a chemical or biological agent like a virus, bacteria, antimicrobial or disinfectant.

Contrary to popular belief, organic does not mean pesticide free. If pesticides are in fact being used in the organic growing process, they are used from natural sources, nothing artificially or synthetically manufactured.

According to WebMD.com, more land is going towards the production of organic food: about 2.35 million acres or nearly the size of Connecticut across 48 states as of 2001.

Some choose to eat organic because the food simply tastes better. It’s fresher and enriched in vitamins compared to some commercial foods that are soaked in pesticides.

Another reason to choose organic products is that the environmental footprint attached to organic food is smaller than that of conventionally grown food.

Organic farming also helps provide a safer and healthier environment by not polluting groundwater, rivers, lakes and oceans with pesticides and chemical fertilizers. There is a reduction in soil erosion and soil quality is improved.

Genetically modified foods are another environmental concern. According to the Non-GMO Project, over 80 percent of all GMOs grown worldwide are engineered for herbicide tolerance, which results in the use of herbicides with even higher toxicities than organic pesticides.

This toxicity has increased 15 times since GMOs were introduced. GMO crops are also responsible for “super weeds” and “super bugs” that can only be killed with poisons that are more toxic. An ingredient in the poison used to kill these “super” organisms is 2,4-D, a chemical found in Agent Orange. The long-term damages caused by GMOs can be irreversible, while organic foods do less damage.

According to NonGMOProject.com, most developed nations do not consider GMOs to be safe. In nearly 50 countries, including Australia, Japan and all of the countries in the European Union, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the production and sale of GMOs. In the U.S., the government has approved GMOs based on studies conducted by the same corporations that created them and profit from their sale.

When buying food products from different parts of the state or around the world, carbon dioxide is released from cars and trucks contributing to greenhouse gasses. By choosing food that is locally grown, the travel time from production to your local market is greatly reduced, thus reducing your carbon footprint on global warming. There will be less smog released from cars because the transportation time was small compared with shipping food from overseas.

Overall the attitude you have towards your impact on the environment is significant. When it comes to eating organically, although it may not necessarily matter how you eat, what matters is that you’re doing your part.

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Elissa Torres

Elissa Torres