“Organic” is a term that is talked about more and more these days. In many ways, people see it as a shorthand for produce that is “environmentally friendly”, “healthy” or “better than anything that isn’t organic.” But what does organic – and specifically organic coffee – really entail? Is organic or non-organic more expensive, and are there really any tangible benefits to buying organic over a non-organic brand? Well, wonder no more; this article will answer all your questions and arm you with the knowledge to decide for yourself whether organic is the way to go.
Organic Definition/USDA Certification
In general, organic farming (of any kind) is farming that is done without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers. In order to receive an organic agriculture certification from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a farm must use no chemical pesticides or fertilizers, no genetically modified plants or animals, no growth hormones, and no fertilizers made from materials that are not organic.
Coffee beans grown under these conditions produce what is known as organic coffee. There are over 40 countries in the world that produce organic coffee, and the United States is the largest consumer of those organic coffee beans. It is estimated that 44% of the worldwide sales of organic coffee beans go to North America, and of that figure, 85% are sold in the United States. Why you may ask?
Health Benefits of Organic Coffee
Coffee itself, whether it is organic or not, has health benefits. It happens to be a very good source of antioxidants, which prevent the oxidation of cells in the body. When cells oxidize, they can release electrons as roaming particles called “free radicals” which can set off chain reactions in the body that lead to cellular death. Antioxidants minimize these reactions and can help prevent strokes, coronary heart disease, and even altitude sickness. Studies have also shown that drinking coffee after a meal may lower blood-sugar levels, potentially preventing diabetes.
When organic coffee is chosen, the health benefits from coffee are not reduced by damaging chemicals, fertilizers, hormones or GMOS. To understand how beneficial organic coffee is, let’s look at the health risks of non-organic coffee. Nonorganic coffee beans often contain the residue from chemical or synthetic materials used in the growing process which are not food-safe. This residue can cause skin and eye irritation, hormone imbalances, and nervous system abnormality. The Environmental Protection Agency has warned that these kinds of chemicals can also contain carcinogens, the material that promotes the growth of cancer in the body.
These risks are especially important to expecting mothers, as the chemicals can be passed through the bloodstream from a pregnant or nursing mother, to her fetus or child. Babies have much less body fat than adults, so the chemicals are absorbed into their organs more quickly and can result in developmental disorders and birth defects.
After taking these health risks into consideration, they can be fortunately avoided by opting for products developed under certified organic conditions. Non organic coffee prevents, and potentially causes, cancer simultaneously. Organic coffee on the other hand offers only the benefits.
How about the effects on the environment? Although organic coffee is not always fair-trade, it is common to see the two linked. The reason for this is because it is more difficult and expensive to run an organic operation, making it harder to do on a large scale. This leaves smaller farmers competing against big non organic farms, where they are often undercut on price.
When coffee is fair trade, it means that it was grown by a farm who is a member of a co-operative fair trade group. This group ensures that the coffee is bought at a price that is reasonable. By following this standard, small farms are protected from being undercut by bigger corporations or farms, which can potentially drive them off their land.
Another important consideration is that organic farms are often “shade-grown”, meaning that the natural rainforest is still at least partially intact. Many larger operations, in an effort to produce more coffee, clear-cut huge pieces of land. From removing the natural vegetation, the nutrients are drained from the ground which causes infertility without the use of chemical fertilizers. Cutting down large parts of the rainforests also creates an environmental concern for certain birds’ migratory paths who are left with fewer places to live during the winter seasons. The migratory bird populations of certain species have dropped as a result.
In addition, non-organic farms who do not manage their pesticides properly create toxic runoff. This runoff finds its way into local water sources and can adversely affect local wildlife, plant life, and even drinking water up to miles away from the farm itself. The toxic environment also affects those in contact with the farms, especially the workers, who are exposed to chemicals in large quantities. Ingesting a small amount of those chemicals can result in serious health concerns, imagine working in an environment that is saturated with them. All in all, organic guidelines ensures that these problems are avoided.
Organic Coffee – What to Look For
If you would like to opt for organic coffee, you can simply look for the USDA certified organic seal next to our roasters and you will be guaranteed an organic coffee selection when you include them to your Roaster Lineup. Give a few organic coffees a try and see what you think!