Toxic tomatoes, poisoned peanut butter, lethal lettuce. It seems like hardly a day goes by that the news isn’t shouting about another food recall. Well, don’t panic – buy organic.
For the record it is not like organic food has never been recalled, in fact, a recent recall involved E. coli in organic spinach. However, despite that unusual incident, overall, there are many reasons why shopping organic is better for you, your family, and the planet.
First, let’s define organic. There really is not an official definition of the term organic. Organic refers to the way food is grown or processed, not the food itself. Generally, any food can be called organic if it has been grown or produced using all natural and no synthetic means.
In other words, any food or product that has been grown or created without the addition of chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics, or artificial or chemical additives of any kind is considered “organic.”
Organic fruits, vegetables, grains, and other plant products must be free from genetic engineering or the use of radiation. An Organic wine, for example, can only have trace amounts of naturally occurring sulfites, but, cannot contain added sulfites. When the term “organic” is found on food products, it is assumed that at least 95% of the product uses organic ingredients.
If the label has the USDA Certified Organic Seal that means it must meet a specific set of standards for that certification. In addition to the criterion above, to be labeled Certified Organic:
- The land on which organic food or fibers, such as cotton, are grown must be free of chemical additives or pesticides for three years prior to being certified.
- Farmers and processors must keep detailed records of methodology and all materials used in the production process.
- All methods and materials must be inspected annually by a third-party agency under the jurisdiction of the USDA.
Why Go Organic?
So if organic foods are not necessarily safer than “ordinary” foods, and they generally cost more, why buy them? If you care about your health and the health of the planet, there are a lot of very good reasons.
We are living in a “toxic soup”. Every day we are exposed to known cancer-causing chemicals and heavy metals in the water we drink, the foods we eat, the very air we breathe. Using organic products not only minimizes our exposure to these toxins through ingestion, but organic farming and production techniques ensure that less of these chemical poisons are created as waste products that would otherwise wind up in the soil, groundwater, rivers, lakes, and oceans.
In agriculture, 23 out of the 28 most commonly used pesticides, are known carcinogens. Pesticide residue in food has been linked to 20,000 cancer deaths last year, and thousands of more new incidents of cancer per year, according to the National Academy of Sciences.
Children and pregnant women are the most susceptible to the chemicals found in pesticides. So if you have kids or are planning to – you better listen up. According to the USDA, the list of fruits that are the worst repeat offenders when it comes to pesticide residue that cannot be peeled or washed off are peaches, apples, strawberries, and pears – the favorite finger foods of little ones.
And that is just on the produce grown in the United States. Farms in foreign countries still use chemical pesticides, even DDT, that have been banned for years in this country. This is a major cause for concern, given the fact that these toxins pose the biggest risk to children and developing fetuses.
Pesticides have been proven to cross the placental barrier during pregnancy, and a recent study by scientists at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health found a link between pesticides and impaired fetal growth. Another study from Seattle’s University of Washington found that preschoolers who ate conventional diets had six times the level of specific pesticides in their urine as those kids who ate only organic foods. And a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention found that the level of certain pesticides in the urine of children was twice that of adults.
The Dangers of GMOs
Perhaps even more insidious then pesticides and chemicals in our food are genetically modified organisms (or GMOs.) GMOs or transgenic foods are crops or livestock that are the result of genetic engineering. In agriculture, that means a quick way of artificially creating traits in crops that normally would have taken farmers decades of selective breeding, or such genetic manipulation can create freakish new strains of plant crops that resist disease or destruction by pests, that no amount of cross-pollination or selective breeding could ever have created. Believe it or not, over 70 percent of the foods sold in mainstream markets have at least some trace of transgenic or GMO ingredients.
While there are several proposals in the works, currently there is still no comprehensive FDA requirement for companies to identify genetically altered food on the label, so unsuspecting consumers buy and eat them daily without any knowledge of what they’re putting in their bodies. It is yet to be seen what the long-term effects will be of eating such genetically modified foods, but it is reasonable to assume they will have unpredictable health risks. The only sure way to guarantee you are eating food that does not contain any GMO’s is to buy organic.
In Part II of “Don’t Panic – Go Organic,” we will discuss more advantages of organic foods, and how to go beyond just the foods that you eat, to live a more “organic lifestyle.”