Everything You Wanted to Know about Biofood

Marketing under the Mask of Health. Interview with an expert in food processing.

In the last years the foods labeled as biological have flooded the shelves of shops. These products capture the interest of many. In this article we will try to figure out what is hidden under this label.

A difference between biological farming and conventional farming exists. Created in respect to nature, organic agriculture uses the natural fertility of the soil, excluding pesticides and genetically modified organisms. The European Community considers only those foods that are grown in soil fertilized with compost and natural fertilizers to be organic. Conventional farming may require, in addition to natural fertilizer, the use of chemicals: herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, pesticides. The same thing happens in animal breeding: organic meat comes only from animals fed with natural foods grown without pesticides or chemical residues. Biological wine, bread, pasta, vegetables, meat – prices are more expensive than traditional food; it seems like a profitable business. Doubts arise: are these foods, actually, more wholesome and healthy than traditional ones? Why do they cost more? We tried to find answers to these questions with court expert Dr. Patrizia Perilli from Pescara, degree in Food Technology laboratory.

Organic farming uses no chemicals. Are there some consequences?

In the absence of these pesticides, these foods are vulnerable to parasites, which may release natural yet toxic and possibly carcinogenic organisms, which are as bad or worse than pesticides.The most dangerous substances are mycotoxins, produced by mushrooms plants. This phenomenon undergoes a resurgence, the present mycotoxins on these plants, ingested by cows in an organic farming scheme, are metabolized and reshaped into even more dangerous products that you might find in the milk.

What is the difference between convetional and biological products, for example, wine?

It’s necessary to clarify that there are biological bunches of grapes. The use of sulphites, albeit limited, is essential to preserve its chemical organoleptic features/product.

What are Biological Pasta and bread?

Organic flour does not necessarily make better bread. The grain must undergo a series of transformations in technology and processes before ending up on our plate. Organic wheat has a yield for 50% and a protein content of 20%.

Can the protein in organic wheat increase and how?

Yes, it can. Selecting varieties of wheat that can better exploit the nitrogen to increase proteins of gluten. Paradoxically, in this case, demonised biotechnology can help. Organic farming does not permit the use of transgenic technologies (transfer of genes between different species), so researchers are trying to make genetic changes less controversial, using techniques such as molecular marker assisted selection.

What are the markers?

The Molecular Markers are DNA sequences that indicate the presence of a particular gene. They are needed to figure out if the gene, that interests us, has transferred in the cross.
In absence of parasites, was it verified whether these products are more healthy?
In Italy, for example, 8 million people prefer to eat organic food, thinking that they are doing a good thing for their health, but this food has no positive qualities that distinguish them from ordinary food, obtained in normal fields and stables, using chemical products, as the British Food Standards Agency certifies in their multi-annual scientific study, published in 2009 by the authoritative American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, that is also the most extensive and thorough research ever done in the world on this issue.

A healthy and safe food crop without pesticides, is it possible?

Healthy and productive agriculture without the use of pesticides is possible to achieve with just the transfer of genes that might confer resistance to diseases, increased productivity and better vegetative growth. Like what we could achieve in medicine with the use of stem cells. While the research is sufficiently ready, in collective thinking about the spectre of a mad scientist who creates “the Guinea pig with wings”.

Despite the lower yield of crop production, farmers are more likely to use this method. Why is it so?

Yes, it is true, average yields are lower compared to the same crops grown in conventional farming, but a slice of consumers are willing to pay the higher price and the EU lavishes funding through public institutions, these are farmers watched with interest using this method of cultivation.

Why are many consumers willing to pay a higher price for these foods?

I think the collective imagination perceives them as “healthier”. There is a correlation with concerns over food safety. The consumer believes that these foods “will do them good”, whether it’s true or not does not matter, eating it, they like the product even more and appreciate that there is information on it’s biological origin.

Finnally: Is the price justified? Does perception influence it?

This perception allows you to sell at a higher price, additional costs due to organic farming, which would, in fact, relate only to lower production volumes. The restriction from using chemical fertilizers and pesticides for crops exposes them to parasites, disease and biochemical deficiencies that negatively affect vegetative growth. It is as if human beings were to get treatment with supplements instead of chemical medications in the moments of greatest need.

It’s up to each person individually to choose whether or not to spend twice as much on organic food. Considering everything said above, the only thing that is important is to monitor and take care of your health. Enjoy what you’re eating but be smart about the food advertisements you see and be prepared to get lured into another marketing ploy!

Photo: Shutterstock

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