As the market reaches billions of dollars, demand for organic food increases. Find out whether such products are in fact healthier and more sustainable

Organic good segment is at full throttle – and in 2019 the growth momentum of this market seems unstoppable. In the United States, a research conducted in 48 states says that 82% of USA families buy at least one organic product on a regular basis. And in Brazil, this market has reached BRL 4 billion in revenue in 2018, a progress of 20% compared to the previous year – the outlook kept for this year. 

Eating fresh food, free of pesticides, from local producers and with healthier properties are among the reasons leading consumers to shop for organics. This is so alluring that, all over the world, a global industry of US$ 97 billion has taken shape 

But, in reality, how do organics impact our health?

Is organic food truly healthier?

From a nutritional value perspective, organic and non-organic food basically have the same properties – to date, this is the consensus in the scientific community, although some researches favor organics. This means, for example, that organic oranges have the same amount of vitamin C as oranges produced in conventional agriculture. However, in some aspects, food free of pesticides have proven benefits.

One of them concerns flavor. “Organic food has more flavor due to respecting its natural production time. There’s no chemical booster,” explains Mara Ligia Bachelli, principal of the Faculty of Nutrition at PUC (Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo), in Campinas. Take lettuce, for example: under traditional production, it is ready for consumption in 45 days tops, but under organic production, it may take 7 additional days. “So, it can absorb more earthly flavors,” she said. 

On the other hand, advises Mara, consumers should be aware that fruits, vegetables, roots or organic greenery usually look “uglier” than non-organics. “It’s food that often looks deformed to us. In traditional agriculture, better-looking ones are chosen for sale and the others are disposed,” she warns. “We can say that the uglier-looking the product, the fewer agrochemicals it contains.”

Alimento orgânico. Crédito: Alexandr Podvalny/Unsplash

Another aspect that favors organics is the greater presence of antioxidants. According to a survey carried out by the University of Newcastle (United Kingdom) that analyzed 343 studies on foods, those produced without using chemical products have 19%-69% more presence of antioxidants than conventional products.

“In general, organics tend to show a higher content of antioxidants,” said Sônia Stertz, PhD in food technology at the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR), in an interview with Brazilian magazine Saúde. Two factors for this: the later harvest, and an absence of agrochemicals. “In this situation, plants activate their own defense mechanism the entire time,” explains Sterz. With this, production of antioxidants is triggered.

The study published in the British Journal of Nutrition says that eating a fruit, a vegetable or 100 grams of a certain cereal from organic production is equivalent to two or three servings of the same food from conventional production, from an antioxidant consumption perspective. This substance, in summary, protects our cells against oxidation, the degenerative process of organs and tissues.

In other words: consuming this type of food may, in the long run, lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases (such as heart attacks and strokes), neurodegenerative diseases, some types of cancer and diabetes. It also makes hair and skin better-looking. 

Organic food and risk of contamination

The same study from the British university unveiled another benefit from organics: a much lower risk of contamination. The scientific publication shows that conventional foods have higher levels of toxic heavy metals. Cadmium, a metallic contaminant forbidden by the European Commission, was found in an amount 50% higher in non-organic products.

For animal-derived products, such as meat, milk and eggs, the organic certificate means that animals are fed with input and pesticide-free food, raised under more comfortable conditions (no confinement), and that there’s no application of antibiotics and hormones. The unrestricted consumption of antibiotics is seen by many scientists – and Anvisa itself – as one of the reasons for the appearance of superbugs.

There is also direct contamination regarding the use of agrochemicals in vegetable food. According to Anvisa, agrochemicals are not approved: “in Brazil there is no method to deactivate their components, in such a way that prevents remaining leftovers from posing risk to the environment and public health.” But the own entity has already positioned against the bill that currently regulates the approval of pesticides in the country.

Agricultura. Crédito: Unsplash

To professor Mara Bachelli, the real risk of agrochemicals is only seen when the producer doesn’t meet the sanitation agency’s standards. “If the producer harvests fruits or vegetables before the end of the chemical product cycle of action, the pesticide remains in the food and consuming it may cause chemical intoxication,” she explains. “But if the producer does things right, the pesticide, just like a medicine, gets out the vegetable body, making its consumption safe. Trusting in those producing your food is the most important,” she completed.

Even the careless consumption of organics poses risk. Instead of chemical products, farmers use animal feces as fertilizer and, as with agrochemicals, if the accurate time of composting is not respected, there’s a risk of microbiological contamination.

Organic agriculture: good for the planet and society

Organic production makes no use of synthetic fertilizers, agrochemicals, growth regulators or synthetic additives for animal food. According to the Sebrae guidelines for the sector, this industry is characterized by a respect for nature, diversification of cultures, recognition of land as a living body and independence of production systems.

Agricultura. Crédito: Jens Johnsson/Unsplash

Today, there are at least 3 3 million organic producers across a plantation area of approximately 70 million hectares worldwide. Brazil contributes with over 15 thousand certificated homesteads – 75% belonging to family farmers. Still, those are meager figures.

According to data from 2016, when consumption was even lower, the domestic offer for agrochemicals was lower than the demand for this type of product. Add to this the fact that 70% of this production are exported to Europe. That translates to green lights for more investments in the sector.

“The market is hot! This production model employs the entire family in the business and improves the social part,” says Sebrae’s Victor Rodrigues Ferreira – Sebrae (Brazilian Micro and Small Business Support Service) is a non-profit private entity. “The producer also sees improvement in his own health. When application of agrochemicals is avoided, your body and your homestead suffer less,” he completes.

Research carried out by the entity shows that the main bridge between harvest and the table is direct sales to consumers (72% of cases), followed by sales at organic grocery stores (55%), small-sized markets (43%), supermarkets (26%) and public sales (26%).

Among organic farmers, 72% plant fruits, 64% greenery, 49% roots, 24% agro-industrial products and 17% work with animal-derived food. There is a high demand for all these products; however, they are not always easily found at points of sale or restaurants. The reason? 62% of food companies are high rates.

“Firstly, consumers are convinced to spend more mainly for health concern, but, with time, they get engaged, notice that the system is more sustainable and buy mainly for social and environmental questions,” explains Mayra Monteiro Viana, also from Sebrae. 

Thus, everyone wins: the environment, society and our bodies.

Content published in July 29, 2019

What Braskem is doing about it?

Braskem is engaged with the human and environmental values that are part of the 2030 Agenda and defined measures for cooperating with the accomplishment of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The direction and referral of the plan and actions of the company were presented in its Global Policy for Sustainable Development. The main contributions of Braskem for the development of the SDG can also be found in its Annual Report.

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