The food market biological agriculture (called “organic”) has experienced very significant development in recent years. Many reasons have led consumers to take the plunge, in particular the desire to limit the consumption of residues of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, or fungicides, the concern for the environment and / or animal wellbeing. But what is it really?
Are all organic products the same?
Yes, in theory. This is important because, according to theBio Agency, 57% of fruit and 62% of organic grocery products sold in 2018 were imported, half of which from a country outside the European Union (EU). “In Europe, there are regulations concerning organic farming,” says Nadine Lauverjat, coordinator of Future Generations. Member States are subject to the same specifications, except derogations. ”
But what about an Asian rice? “There are equivalence agreements between the EU and a hundred countries,” says Frédéric Denhez, ecologist. “When an exporter wishes to obtain the organic label, our certification bodies go there to check whether everything complies with our specifications, adds Emmanuelle Kesse-Guyot, research director at Inra.” The European organic label is therefore a guarantee of seriousness.
Are organic plants free from pesticides?
Not necessarily. “In a world polluted since the start of the industrial era, contamination is still possible during cultivation, storage or transport, explains Frédéric Denhez. But it is very low.” Thus, on the basis of published studies, when residues are found in organic foods, they are traces, that is to say of amounts less than 0.01 mg / kg. A ten-year monitoring of fruit and vegetables in Germany concluded in 2013 that the quantities of pesticide residues were 180 times lower in organic than in conventional. According to this study, 74% of conventional foods contained residues, 18% residual traces and 8% nothing. Only 5% of the bios contained residue, 30% residual traces and 65% nothing.
What are the authorized pesticides?
So-called natural ones, because the goal is to limit external inputs as much as possible. Authorized plant protection products must come from natural substances or derived from natural substances. Among them, copper(Bordeaux mixture…), paraffin oil, sulfur, kaolin, potassium bicarbonate, vinegar, nettle, certain essential oils… The list is available from theInstitute of Organic Food and Agriculture. Some are not devoid of toxicity for nature. “That is examined on a case-by-case basis, farmers having to prove that they cannot do without “, explains Marie-Josèphe Amiot-Carlin, research director at Inra.
Organic plants cannot be grown outside the soil
This is forbidden. There is no question, for example, of producing organic tomatoes on glass wool as it is authorized in conventional. “On the other hand, it is possible to grow in a greenhouse, as long as there is contact with the ground, specifies Frédéric Denhez. This can be questionable when we produce vegetables out of season. ”
Can organic products contain GMOs?
No, because European regulations prohibit their use in plants, animals, additives, fodder, fertilizers … This ban is a plus because, if the cultivation and sale of GMOs in the conventional sector is prohibited in France, it is possible to import it for farm animals, and the consumer can ingest it indirectly in meat, eggs, milk, etc.
Why buy organic meat?
Organic farming guarantees more animal welfare
The density and size of the buildings are limited and each animal must have a ventilated space, natural light, a minimum area mulched inside, and have access to an outdoor course.
Does organic farming allow the use of antibiotics?
Rarely. Their use is restricted to curative (sick animal), within the limit of 1 to 3 veterinary drugs per year, and the waiting period before marketing is doubled compared to conventional. We favor homeopathy or aromatherapy. In the end, the amount of antibiotics that the animal receives before consumption is much lower.
“Hormonal treatments, cloning and embryo transfer are also prohibited,” adds Frédéric Denhez.
Is the food of animals in an organic farm better?
It is more natural. First, their food must itself be organic. Then, the breeding of herbivores is based onmaximum use of pasture, depending on their availability throughout the year, supplemented by other fodder mainly from the farm. Finally, young mammals are fed with natural milk, preferably maternal. And force-feeding is prohibited.
Can we trust organic processed foods?
Do organic processed products contain 100% organic ingredients?
No, but at least 95%. According to the regulations, they should contain 100% ingredients from organic farming. But since not all the ingredients are available organically, une margin of 5% of the product resulting from the conventional is admitted.
“The real difference is in the permitted additives, emphasizes Frédéric Denhez. Less than 50 in organic, compared to more than 300 in conventional, most are of natural origin with fewer potential health risks. ”
Is the composition of organic processed products nutritionally more interesting?
Absolutely not. An organic processed product can, for example, contain palm oil, poor quality sugars, refined cereals… Even organic, an industrial product remains industrial, with nutritional contributions that can be mediocre.
“But the ingredients are healthier overall and the composition is generally shorter,” adds Frédéric Denhez.
Are organic foods richer in nutrients?
Yes, in the same category. Most of the studies carried out conclude at higher concentrations in organic foods. Concerning fruits and vegetables, the most notable differences concern vitamin C (from + 6% to + 12%), and polyphenols – phenolic acids, anthocyanins… (from + 19% to + 69%).
“The most plausible explanation is that in the absence of pesticides, the plant develops its own means of defense“, specifies Marie-Josèphe Amiot-Carlin.
- Regarding organic meat, eggs and milk, they are up to 50% richer in healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
- As to organic cereals, they are less rich in protein, therefore gluten, and fiber than those from conventional.
Study links organic food consumption in childhood with improved cognitive development
Researchers, whose study was published in Environmental Pollution were interested in the link between neuropsychological development school-aged children and certain environmental factors.
Their study thus indicates that the consumption organic food is associated with better scores on intelligence tests (ability to solve new reasoning problems) and working memory (ability of the brain to retain new information when it is needed in the short term). The explanation for this association is that “healthy diets, including organic ones, are richer than fast food diets in nutrients needed by the brain, such as fatty acids, vitamins and antioxidants, which together can improve cognitive function in childhood, ”they explain.
To come to these conclusions, the researchers used data from 1,298 children aged 6 to 11 from six European birth cohorts. A total of 87 factors to which children can be exposed while growing up were examined: chemicals, pollution, mother’s lifestyle … The study thus revealed that the main determinant of intelligence and working memory of quality in children is organic food and that fast food and tobacco smoke are the most damaging determinants.
Does eating organic mean eating healthy and balanced?
No. “We can eat balanced conventional foods, and very poorly eat organic”, explains Frédéric Denhez. However, according to one of the conclusions of NutriNet-Health – French study intended to assess the links between eating habits and chronic diseases – consumers of organic products would have a more balanced diet and less weight problems.
Moreover, “by eating organic, we ingest fewer pesticides, emphasizes Emmanuelle Kesse-Guyot. However, even if we do not yet have scientific proof, the ingestion of cumulative doses of these substances could have an impact on the human health.”
Organic guarantees better protection of the environment
Crop rotation, green manures, recycling of organic materials, ban on synthetic pesticides and GMOs … organic farming contributes to preserve living and fertile soils, improve water quality and preserve biodiversity.
Does organic keep less well?
No more no less. It all depends on the variety and, above all, the course of the product. “Nothing prevents picking fruits and vegetables before maturity and refrigerating them”, explains Frédéric Denhez. In this case, the food keeps well, sometimes to the detriment of its nutritional wealth. “On the other hand, at small producers or resellers, organic fruits and vegetables are marketed when ripe. There, obviously, they must be consumed quickly.”
As for mycotoxins – toxic substances produced by fungi in the absence of fungicides – “a summary of studies shows that there is no more contamination in organic than in conventional”, assures Marie-Josèphe Amiot-Carlin.
What are the best organic labels?
Some consider the European regulations too lax, and many independent labels, more stringent, have therefore developed.
- Bio Coherence : Close to what the French AB label was before European standardization, it guarantees the total absence of GMOs where the EU tolerates traces of up to 0.9%.
- Nature and Progress : The products are 100% organic and palm oil is prohibited. The size of farms is limited and crops are far from traffic routes.
- Demeter : More demanding in terms of cultivation and environmental impact (seeds, fertilizers, processing, vinification, etc.), he advocates biodynamic agriculture.
- Bio Partner : Beyond organic, it takes into account fair trade and solidarity.
New regulations for 2021
With the development of the sector, the European Union is modifying its specifications slightly and is setting itself new objectives. To come up : a mandatory part of organic in collective catering, more usable agricultural area devoted to organic farming, a better readability of import rules, new measures to avoid cross-contamination …
But, above all, the possibility of an obligation of result, that is to say not to exceed a certain level of pesticides in marketed foods, which is not the case at present, rather than an obligation of means, which could leave the door open to the use of certain pesticides, according to criteria specific to each Member State. To be continued…