Ever wondered what the real difference between organic and non-organic is? There are so many words and labels thrown around in the food industry that it can be confusing to keep straight on what exactly you are buying and what is the best type of meat and product to buy for you and your family. A new study from the ENOUGH movement, an initiative of Elanco Animal Health, carried out in 11 countries globally is giving South Africans some real food for thought when it comes to unpacking all these labels.
The study measured the understanding and knowledge among consumers of popular food and nutrition topics including product labels, farming methods, nutritional value and environmental impacts and the results showed significant misunderstanding among consumers of what food claims and labels actually mean, and that consumers are increasingly out of touch with the farming realities of getting healthy and safe food to the table.
“Although food and nutrition are frequent topics of discussion in most households, there is a lot of uncertainty of what food claims and labels actually mean,” explains Andre Westerveld, regional director of Elanco Animal Health. “For example, consumers may choose foods labelled “all-natural” or “organic” and are even prepared to pay an additional premium for these products, despite not knowing what the labels actually mean in terms of environmental impact, animal welfare, nutritional value and other metrics commonly associated with their food choices.”
Given that by 2050, the world will support a population of 9.7 billion people, sustainability in agriculture will prove to be a very serious challenge – how can we produce more and enough food to feed the world’s population without using more resources and exerting more pressure on the environment? “The absolute and undeniable reality is that we have to produce more, and do it with less. This can only be done through innovation and technology in food production, but for many consumers and retailers, what that innovation and technology entails is misunderstood, and often mistrusted,” says Andre.
Andre explains that misinformation and sensationalist claims (that often have absolutely no scientific ground) are often a hindrance to food security. “All consumers have a right to expect safe food produced responsibly and industry has a responsibility when it comes to defining responsible and sustainable production. But, we need to separate the facts from the myths, separate science from frivolous marketing claims, so that we end up with the right dialogue, the right science-based policies, and the right innovative solutions to ensure that we can produce enough safe, healthy and nutritious food without depleting our natural resources,” says Andre.
Throughout history, the world’s biggest problems have been solved through innovation. It’s celebrated in virtually every sector of the economy. So why is innovation questioned when it’s linked to food? In the past 60 years, a wide range of innovations in agriculture have allowed farmers to produce more while better caring for the animals and decreasing environmental impact.
The Enough Movement believes that knowledgeable consumers are crucial to supporting sustainable agriculture, humane practices for raising livestock, and science-based regulations and policies that support the economic viability of our farmers. To help you unpack the fact from fiction, The Enough Movement has put together a list of popular food myths, dispelled by the facts so you can make informed food choices based on accurate, science-based information.
Myths and facts about food production:
Although many people buy “all natural” foods thinking they are healthier and safer, most people don’t really know what labels like “natural” and “organic” actually mean. For example, Organic is a type of farm management and food production system that only allows natural products to be used, but it doesn’t mean pesticide-free. Organic farming may use a variety of chemical sprays and powders derived from natural sources, including substances like boron, copper sulphate and pyrethrin similar to the synthetic versions used in modern farming. It is also important to note that there is no difference in the nutritional value and content of organic and conventionally produced food. An analysis by Stanford University on more than 237 studies concluded the quality, safety and nutrition content of organic and conventionally produced foods to be equal.
Confusing about modern agriculture and food production systems
Many people believe that organic production is one of the best solutions to feeding the growing population on a sustainable basis. However, the reality is that organic farming produces less food (about 25 percent on average globally). It requires significantly more land and resources to produce the same yield as modern farming methods. While it is true that organic methods use less fertilizer, herbicides and energy, modern farming methods resulted in less soil erosion with better yields. In fact, modern farming practices are often the most environmentally sustainable, using innovation to decrease the amount of land, feed and water to raise meat, milk and eggs. Thanks to continuous improvement less feed is needed, the carbon footprint impact is reduced by half, while producing the same quantity of meat.
Antibiotics in food production
While antibiotic use is lower in organic farming, antibiotics are still used to treat bacterial infections in their animals. Regardless of whether an animal was sick and treated with an antibiotic at some time in its life or was raised antibiotic free, all the food you buy is free from antibiotics as rigorous testing ensures it. An animal treated with antibiotics must stay on the farm until the antibiotic has passed through the animal’s system so there is no antibiotic residue in our meat, milk or eggs.
There is no scientific evidence to suggest a difference in nutritional content between conventional and organic protein or a difference between the safety of the two. Increasing scientific evidence suggests that the clinical issues with antimicrobial resistance that we face in human medicine are primarily the result of antibiotic use in people, rather than the use of antibiotics in animals. (U.K. Department of Health).
Antibiotics are just one tool among many that veterinarians and farmers use to protect animal health and well-being that includes preventing the spread of diseases among herds and flocks. When antibiotics are used, it is under strict guidance related to the type of disease, the dosage and the duration of use. Only healthy animals flourish. Modern agricultural units can only flourish because the animals are productive, and they will not be productive unless they are healthy and not stressed. Therefore, best management practices and tools that help keep animals healthy are critically important to farmers.
Hormones in food production
Consumers have expressed concerns about the use of hormones in food production. All living things contain hormones – people, plants, animals and therefore also the food we eat. If one looks at the natural estrogenic activity of certain common foods, there are 128,423,201ng (nanograms) of estrogen in 85grams of Soya versus 1,8ng of estrogen in 85g of chicken, 1,9ng in beef and 5,4ng in milk.
There are no hormones used in poultry production ever, yet the majority of consumers believe there are. As for meat and dairy – many farmers do use Recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST) supplementation (a protein hormone used to improve milk production). rbST has been recognised in more than 50 countries by their regulatory authorities, together with their scientific assessment bodies and it has been used safely for over 20 years in countries like South Africa. Even countries in the EU recognise the safety of cows that were treated with rbST, and both meat and milk from rbST supplemented cows can be exported into the EU. The fact that ‘rbST-free’ may appear on a milk bottle does not make it a health issue and there is no difference in the taste, quality, nutritional value or safety of milk produced with or without rbST supplementation.