“Organic” Why and When?
September 01, 2015
To a farmer, “organic” means healthy soil and to consumers it means no pesticides. Technically and legally however, “organic” means different things related to different foods and products. Organic fruits and vegetables are grown without synthetic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, or sewage sludge and have not been genetically modified. Organic beef and chicken come from animals that weren’t offspring of cloned animals and raised on 100% organic feed, were not given growth hormones, antibiotics, or other drugs. Also, their meat has not been irradiated. Organic milk comes from animals that have been fed 100% organic feed and were not given antibiotics or growth hormone for at least 12 months. Organic eggs come from hens that were given 100% organic feed and never given growth hormone or antibiotics. Packaged foods can be labeled “100% organic” if all ingredients are organic, “organic” if 95% of ingredients are organic, and “made with organic ingredients” if 70% of the ingredients are organic.
Why is it important to consider organic food since typically, they are more expensive and sometimes harder to find? Is it really worth it and are pesticide levels, hormones, and antibiotics harmful and dangerous? Well, at this point, it is not 100% clear. Pesticides are poisons and when given to animals in high doses, they can cause cancer, nervous system damage, and birth defects. Also, people who work with pesticides—farmers and crop dusters—appear to have higher rates of asthma, Parkinson’s Disease, leukemia, myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and cancers of the lip, stomach, skin, brain, and prostate. Of the 900 or so active ingredients in pesticides that can be legally used in the US, some 20 cause cancer in animals and are classified as human carcinogens.
To date, there is little data to confirm the risk to consumers from eating fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue. One issue is that, almost all the pesticide used in farming today are non persistent—meaning they’re metabolized quickly and the body doesn’t store them. Older pesticides that are no longer being used lasted much longer in our bodies. Since the newer pesticides don’t last long in our system, studying their effects is “hit or miss”.
Most researchers believe that pesticide residue in foods do little harm but it is inconceivable that they do nothing. The bottom line is: it can’t hurt to buy and consume pesticide free food however, you’re better off eating fruits and vegetables with pesticides than not eating them at all. In fact, people who eat more fruits and vegetables with or without pesticides have lower rates of heart disease and less likely to suffer from cancers of the colon, mouth, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, and lung.
So what about environmental factors? Research has found that organic farming is less likely to damage the environment. In fact, organic agriculture uses 30% less fossil fuel than conventional agriculture. Another way to decrease the use of fossil fuels in food production is to choose organic as well as local. Eating local food really represents sustainable agriculture—food is grown for the local community. Unfortunately, it is not that easy but does need to be considered since fuel prices are getting higher and shipping around the world will be unsustainable long term.
In summary, organic food is definitely better for the environment when the option is organic and local. Also, with respect to pesticide residue and health, some choices do seem to be more beneficial when they are organic and some less so. Fruits and vegetables with soft skins have higher pesticide residue than those with harder outer coatings or peels that are removed before consumption. Below is a list of the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Consistently Clean 12”.
The Dirty Dozen
Sweet Bell Peppers
Consistently Clean 12
Sweet Peas (frozen)
Sweet Corn (frozen)
(information for this article was obtained from the CSPI Nutrition Action Newsletter and Tufts Health and Nutrition Letter)
Diet and Nutrients , Food Allergies Intolerances/Sensitivities , Meal and Menu Planning