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For centuries, food was grown and raised on small farms. There were no toxic chemicals or pesticides to worry about. It wasn’t until the twentieth century that chemicals crept into the food supply. This cast doubt on the healthiness of the foods people were eating and resulted in a gradual movement to banish chemicals and return food to its natural state. Such natural food is called organic and accounts for approximately 2 percent of the world’s food supply.
Early advocates of organic food obtained their food directly from local farms. These consumers had a direct connection to their food supply. As the popularity of organic food increased, organic food began to appear in supermarkets in mass-produced quantity. The tie to local farmers was lost. Pressure from some food manufacturers allowed certain synthetics into organically processed foods. Pesticides derived from plants were permitted. Consumers complained that the integrity of organic farming was becoming lost. Opponents of organic farming have stated that organic food production is not sustainable and too expensive.
Organic food has become a big business. Many consumers worldwide have turned to organic foods as a healthy lifestyle, better tasting food and a way to maintain an ecologically sustainable planet. Some critics, however, point to certain disadvantages in the production of organic food.
Critics believe that organic farming cannot produce as much food as conventional farming. In 2003, the UK’s Department for Environmental Food and Rural Affairs found that some of the benefits of organic food production when lost when unit yield was considered. A Danish study found that farms producing organic potatoes, sugar beets and seed grass produced only half as much as conventional farms. Critics believe that it is impossible to grow as much food per acre using organic methods.
Another problem with organic food is its shorter life span. Without preservatives, organic produce spoils far more quickly in stores and in homes, making it more costly. Some believe poor people could not afford to eat if all food were organic.
According to the UK's Food Standards Agency, people believe organic produce and meat are more nutritious. Yet a study by the FSA concluded that there was no evidence that organic food was any healthier than non-organic food. However, a 2007 study by the European Union determined that organic fruit and vegetables contained up to 40 percent more antioxidants.
The debate over organic food continues. The universal desire for food that is pure and that is also affordable and economically viable continues to leave people searching for answers.