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60-Second Earth

Is Organic Really Better?

Is organic better for you and the environment? David Biello reports

[Below is the original script. But a few changes may have been made during the recording of this audio podcast.]

What started as a countercultural farming movement has now become big business: organic food sales topped $24 billion last year.

So food grown without conventional chemical pesticides, fertilizers and lacking additives is popular despite the fact that it costs as much as 50 percent more.

But is it really better for you and the planet?

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: yes, at least as far as pesticide residues and energy use goes. Quote: "Organic agriculture already uses less fossil fuel based on inputs and has a better carbon footprint than standard agricultural practices," the FAO said in a 2007 report (link is to a PDF.)

That's why the Obama administration is offering some $50 million in funding for farmers to go organic.

But it doesn't seem that organic food is any more nutritious. And scientific studies have split on whether organic practices, if applied globally, could produce enough food to feed 6.7 billion people and counting.

Remember, the organic label applies to how the food was grown. Organic certification doesn't mean your food is any safer from, say, salmonella contamination when it's packaged. Nor does it mean the food hasn't traveled halfway around the world to reach your dinner plate—another environmental no-no.

—David Biello

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