Questions about Organic Food
In the interest of good health and protecting the environment, many people are turning to organic foods. However, there seems to be a lot of confusion about organic food, such as how to interpret food labels and whether organic food really a healthier alternative. We question what the difference between organic and non-organic food, and whether they are they really safer, more nutritious.
What Makes Food Organic?
There are a very specific set of requirements and guidelines that must be followed in order for food to be labeled as organic. Organic goods require the use of safe soil, no genetically engineered modifications, and they must be grown separately from conventional foods. Products used in growing conventional crops, such as GMOs (bio-engineered genes), synthetic, petroleum based, and sewage sludge based fertilizers cannot be used to grow organic food. Livestock cannot be given antibiotics, growth hormones or animal by-products, and they must be fed organic feed and allowed outdoors.
Organic food is grown with natural fertilizers, weeds are controlled through crop rotation, tilling, and mulching, and insects are controlled through natural methods, such as birds, the use of bug traps, and the presence of good insects.
The Dangers of Pesticides
Studies have shown that organic foods provide a host of benefits over conventionally grown foods, such as increased nutrition, higher levels of antioxidants, and they are better tolerated by those with food allergies and sensitivities. When foods are grown with pesticides, residue from those pesticides remains on and in the foods we consume. Pesticides have been linked with certain cancers.
Children, with their developing bodies, are the most vulnerable to the effects of pesticides. Pesticides have also been linked to developmental delays and motor dysfunction in children. Pesticides also build up in the body over time and are linked to headaches and a weakened immune system. Lastly, the use of pesticides has contributed to presence of super weeds and super bugs which can only be killed with extremely toxic poisons.
Not All Fruits and Vegetables Are Equal
There are 14 fruits and vegetables that, when grown conventionally, have very high levels of pesticides. In the interest of health and safety, it is best to always use only organically grown versions of this produce. These are apples, cucumbers, sweet bell peppers, kale, potatoes, celery, nectarines, strawberries, grapes, spinach, cherry tomatoes, summer squash, peaches, and hot peppers.
People are often advised to wash fruits and vegetables to remove pesticides. Washing removes some, but not all, pesticides. The better alternative is to purchase organic products to limit exposure to these dangerous chemicals.
Understanding Food Labels
According to the USDA, food labeled as “100% organic” means exactly that – the food must be completely organic or made with 100% organic ingredients. Foods labeled “organic” must be 95% organic. Foods labeled “made with organic ingredients” are only required to contain a minimum of 70% organic foods, and goods labeled “contains organic ingredients” may include up to 70% organic food. Foods that are 100% organic are the safest and healthiest alternative and must meet the rigorous standards to be defined as such.
Why is Organic Food More Expensive?
While many organic foods are more expensive than conventionally grown foods, as more and more people turn to organic food, prices are expected to decrease. Currently, farmers producing organic foods do not receive federal farming subsidies, growing organic food is more labor intensive, and organic food farms are usually smaller family-owned farms. Some may object to the higher price of organic food, but it is impossible to put a price on the value of good health and the sustainability of our environment.
Better and Truer Flavor
When food is produced in harmony with nature, it simply tastes better. Washington State University researchers recently did lab taste trials and found that organic berries were consistently considered sweeter as compared to conventionally-grown berries. Researchers at University of California, Davis determined organically grown tomatoes had higher levels of phytochemicals and vitamin C than their conventionally-grown counterparts. Further, organic food is typically brought to market sooner, resulting in a fresher product, which most people prefer.
Drawing a Line in the Soil
Organic food is simply a choice people can feel good about. In an era where corporate farms dominate the agricultural landscape, the health and wellbeing of consumers are secondary to profits and the smaller family farm has become endangered. Our bodies must not be compromised in the interest of corporate greed. We can and must demand better for ourselves, our children and our planet by choosing organic food.