One UNSW expert notes that when you buy organic food, you don't always get food free of pesticides.
When products are labeled as organic, it is generally linked to the concept of being free of hormones and pesticides.
Food and health expert Jayashree Arcot of the UNSW School of Chemical Engineering says organic farms don't get certified until they're run on organic principles for three years.
"As consumers, we know that organic foods are generally grown and processed using synthetic chemicals," says Assoc. Prof. Arcot.
“Animals are raised on a 100% organic diet without growth hormones or antibiotics.
"However, what consumers see as organically grown food may not be organic unless it's certified."
She makes it clear: "There are pesticides on the market that are approved for organic and agricultural use – these should have a low toxicity compared to pesticides from conventional agriculture."
Evidence in the ground
Organic farming does not use synthetic chemical interventions.
Instead, it focuses on maintaining the natural state of the soil and often implements practices such as crop rotation, where the crop is changed after each harvest.
In Australia, the acceptable levels of agricultural and chemical residues in domestic and imported foods are set by the Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ).
"Australian fruits and vegetables are very low in pesticides, much lower than the minimum levels set by the US Environmental Protection Agency," added Assoc. Prof. Arcot.
“It has been shown that the amount of pesticides in the products we eat is actually a hundred times lower than the smallest dose that could be harmful to laboratory animals.
"So people shouldn't be alarmed if they don't buy organic products."
In Australia, there is no compulsory certification requirement for organic products sold domestically to consumers. However, many organic companies choose organic certifications to increase consumer confidence.
“Unless it is certified by one of these organizations, there is no way to guarantee the authenticity of the organic products sold to consumers.
"We as consumers are responsible for doing our research before buying."
UNSW Sydney asks why consumers are still paying a premium when organic food can still contain pesticides?
“Organic foods are generally more expensive because organic farming is labor intensive and the input costs are very high,” says Assoc. Prof. Arcot.
“A recent review of the health effects of eating organic foods shows that the risk of allergic diseases and of being overweight and obese may be reduced.
“But the study was ultimately inconclusive, as organic food consumers in general tend to lead healthier lifestyles, which could upset the evidence.
“However, I believe the biggest winner is our environment. While organic farming generally has lower yields, it has a smaller carbon footprint compared to conventional agriculture, which is a major emitter of greenhouse gases. "
She concludes: "In the long term, there are health benefits for people if we reduce emissions in our atmosphere."