As you sit down to your Thanksgiving spread tomorrow, have a think about your meal's ingredients, writes Philippa Nuttall.
The organic food and beverage industry continues to experience strong growth compared to the conventional food industry according to a report published this week by Packaged Facts, a publishing division of MarketResearch.com. Most Americans, though, will be enjoying a mass-produced, non-organic food fest tomorrow.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, but as Dan Barber, creative director of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture , a non-profit farm, educational center and restaurant in Westchester County, wrote in the online version of the New York Times this week, the food on your plate could contain very different ingredients depending on where it came from.
Most people tomorrow will probably eat a factory-farmed turkey. Yet, as Barber points out, a study sponsored by the Department of Agriculture in 1999, found that pastured chickens - that have had the chance to run around - contain 21 percent less fat, 30 percent less saturated fat, 50 percent more vitamin A and 400 percent more omega-3 fatty acids than factory-raised birds. They also have 34 percent less cholesterol.
A similar story is true for vegetables.
"A serving of broccoli is naturally rich in vitamins A and B, and has more vitamin C than citrus fruit," wrote Barber. "But raised in an industrial farm monoculture, shipped over a long distance and stored before and after being delivered to your supermarket, it loses up to 80 percent of its vitamin C and 95 percent of its calcium, iron and potassium."
Fruits and vegetables grown organically are also considered by many to have higher levels of antioxidants and other essential nutrients.
This was the message given by a group of scientists at the Institute of Food Technologists' annual meeting in Las Vegas in July. Alyson Mitchell, a food chemist at University of California at Davis reported, for example, that she had found organic tomatoes had higher levels of secondary plant metabolites and higher levels of vitamin C.
"In looking at the (California) supermarket varieties of broccoli, we also found significantly higher levels of the flavonoids in organic broccoli," said Mitchell, reported the IFT.
According to the report, Mitchell added: "It is recognised that high-intensity agricultural practices can disrupt the natural production of secondary metabolites involved in plant defense mechanisms."
The study author said her findings add to a small body of literature that suggests higher levels of antioxidants exist in some organic produce.
A recently published online fact sheet called Organic foods discusses recent research and findings on this issue. The fact sheet is a summary of an article written by James Cleeton at the UK's Soil Association and published in Coronary and Diabetic Care in the UK 2004 by the Association of Primary Care Groups and Trusts (UK).
The consumption of organic foods is increasing in the US, growing at about 17-22 percent, compared to the conventional food industry's growth of 2-3 percent.
One of the biggest growth areas is organic dairy produts that, according to the Organic Trade Association, had a 20.3 percent overall growth rate in 2003 and is forecast to have an annual growth rate of 15.3 percent from 2004 through 2008.
However, one of the big problems faced by manufacturers of organic foods is that the ingredients are often more expensive than conventional ones and these costs are generally passed on to the consumer who is frequently unwilling, or unable, to pay more for their food.
Moreover, in 1984 Americans were spending roughly 8 percent of their disposable income on health care and about 15 percent on food.
"Today, those numbers are essentially reversed," noted Barber.