In recent years, increasing awareness and a changing culture has resulted in a shift towards natural, organic products and away from those containing chemicals such as pesticides, additives and hormones, as well as a rejection of GM foods. Besides our health on an individual level, the health of our planet and humanity as a whole are two more common motivations for ditching the chemical industry. But can we really make a difference to society by changing what we consume?
The Australian Organic Market Report for 2017 reveals a continuing positive trend, and anticipates an at least AU$2 billion market by next year. This report is based on research by the University of New England and the Mobium Group, and tracks industry and consumer trends. In their 2017 report, they state that the number of organic operations of various stripes grew by 5% in Australia over the past year. The volume, measured in tonnes, of organic products exported grew by 17%, and exports of bakery products experienced a four-fold growth from 2015 to 2016. Organic cosmetics, alcohol, dairy, lamb and chicken also showed dramatic growth. At least two thirds of Australians bought at least one organic product in the last year, and 14% of "organic households" report spending at least 40% of their food budget on organic products. And while large chain supermarkets still have a large market share, preferences are now resulting in better opportunities for smaller alternatives. The biggest barriers to organic products are price, availability and trust.
Why is it important? As an article in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health explains, the rise in chronic illnesses cannot be explained by genetics, "luck" or even nutrition and lifestyle. A small and still shrinking proportion of illnesses are solely attributed to genetic makeup, and more "genetic" problems are known to be caused by interactions between the environment and gene variants. Epigenetics, the science of environmental (including diet and lifestyle) factors' influence on gene expression, is becoming more prominent - only a very small fraction of us would need gene therapy to be healthy.
Instead, the link between environmental toxins and our health and longevity is becoming more known and understood. For example, pesticides have been linked with abnormal cell growth (of various levels of severity), neurological problems, endocrine disruption and immune dysregulation. Pesticides often work by interfering with enzyme function - which also affects us, as we are animals that require enzymes for biological processes too. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) include fragrances in chemical cosmetics and interfere with cell membranes, causing problems such as neurological disruption. This is because cell membranes are heavily involved in the transmission of nerve impulses, whether it be a thought or a movement.
Consumer demand has the power to make or break the chemical industry and the production of these toxins. Dr. Zack Bush, a triple board-certified physician from the USA, stated on GMOs Revealed that the chemical industry is vulnerable to consumer behaviour. Even a fully organic market share of 16% could topple the profitability for the Monsantos of the world, and the USA may only be a few years away from this tipping point (Source: Connect Magazine, Spring Equinox 2017). As for our health, a small study suggests that even going mostly organic for a week can cut urinary levels of organophosphate pesticides by nearly 90%. Some chemicals, however, are more persistent and would require more time or specialised support for detoxification.
In conclusion, yes, we can make a difference with what we buy if we work together.