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Organic Food

Is It Worth the Money?


Suzanne R. Carpenter
Department of Chemistry and Physics
Armstrong State University
Richard H. Wallace
Department of Chemistry and Physics
Armstrong State University


Currently there is considerable confusion surrounding the use of the term "organic" as applied to food and other consumer products, but within the agriculture industry the term has a well-defined meaning related to the practices that are allowed in the production of a crop. This case study was written to inform students about organic agriculture and its implications with regard to food nutritional value as well as its costs.  The case is presented as a dilemma in the context of buying produce in the grocery store. Concepts presented include the difference between organic and conventional agricultural practices, the analysis of food to quantify nutrient levels, the history of the organic movement, and the economic and environmental impacts of organic agriculture. The activity was designed for use in a lower level general science course (with a cursory review of the scientific literature) or in an upper level chemistry course (with a thorough analysis of the literature).


  • Describe some of the differences between organic and conventional agricultural practices.
  • Define antioxidant and identify the structural characteristic of phenols.
  • Interpret data from a scientific study.
  • List the major events in the organic agricultural movement from the 1940s to the present.


organic food; agriculture; scientific studies; food; farming; antioxidants; phenol;

Topical Areas

History of science, Regulatory issues

Educational Level

High school, Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division, General public & informal education



Type / Methods

Directed, Discussion, Journal Article



Subject Headings

Agriculture  |   Environmental Science  |   Food Science / Technology  |   Botany / Plant Science  |   Chemistry (General)  |   Organic Chemistry  |   Science (General)  |  

Date Posted


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Justin Hoshaw
Waubonsee Community College
Sugar Grove, IL
I have done extensive research into the safety and history of organic vs GMO food and I have presented a 75 minute presentation to my college and local library about these topics. I do not feel that this case study does enough to educate students about all of the issues at play or provide enough references. I think a number of issues need to be evaluated when organic food is discussed: what is the history of the companies that are producing it, how long have tests been going on for, what is the safety of alternative food (Roundup is now considered at best a potential human carcinogen by the WHO), if products aren't labeled to identify them as GMO is organic a safer option, one of the few scientific papers that identifies GMOs as carcinogenic was retracted only after a former Monsanto employee joined the Board for that journal and is the only paper to have ever been retracted due to insufficient evidence as the sole reason, and with increased GMO production the evolution of future crops is at stake as well as the security of our food due to the possibility of consequences similar to the Irish Potato famine repeating themselves. Nutrient value is only one issue here, and in light of the other aspects, perhaps the smallest. Also, let me stress, until there are clear laws in place demanding the labeling of GMO food, it's not organic versus conventional food that is being addressed but an issue of organic versus GMO food in today's society.