Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Why Buy Organic?

I think it's fair to say that we have all stood in the produce section of our local grocery store and debated whether we should buy the conventional apple or the organic apple. Is it really worth spending the extra $ to go organic? Does it really make a difference? 

Most conventionally grown commercial crops use chemical pesticides.  These pesticides help ensure that farms will yield the crops they demand by killing bacteria, fungi, bugs and insects.  But, what effect might these pesticides have on our own bodies when we ingest them?  According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a significant one.

As acknowledged by U.S. and international government agencies, different pesticides have been linked to a variety of health problems, including:
•brain and nervous system toxicity
•hormone disruption
•skin, eye and lung irritation

Although the effects of these chemical pesticides on humans and the amounts needed to be detrimental are not entirely clear, just the possibility that I am increasing my risk of cancer (or any of the illnesses listed above) is enough to make me want to err on the side of caution.  Wouldn't you agree?

Understanding Organic Labeling
Organic agriculture is regulated by the USDA Organic Rule that was instituted in 2002.  It provides the parameters for the production, labeling and marketing of organic products.  Organically produced agriculture is prohibited from using long-lasting pesticides, herbicides or fungicides and may not use any genetically modified seeds or crops.  There are also rules governing the treatment and management of livestock that is labeled as organic, including the use of organically-grown feed and prohibiting the use of antibiotics or added growth hormones.  The rules also encompass food processing practices to protect the integrity of the product, ensuring that it stays "organic" even after it leaves the farm.

All products using the "Organic" label must comply with the standards set forth by the USDA Organic rule.  The chart to the left is from the USDA website.  It's an easy reference guide to help you understand the different labels used.

When it comes to produce, the EWG has a list of the produce that is most likely and least likely to be contaminated with pesticides.  They use 6 main criteria to rank the levels and rates of contamination.  If you're interested, you can find out more about the methodology used to rank contamination on their website. 

If you can't always buy organic, the EWG has created this handy shopping guide that you can cut out and keep in your wallet.  No more standing around in the produce section debating whether to buy organic or conventional! 

EWG's 2011 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce

In case it's not clearly marked, here's a handy shopping tip to identify produce as organic, conventional or genetically modified (yuck):

Conventional produce uses a 4 digit PLU code (produce lookup code).
The PLU code for organic produce always starts with a 9. 
The PLU code for genetically modified produce always starts with an 8 (avoid these!).   

PLU for a conventional banana is 4011
PLU for an organic banana 94011
PLU for a genetically modified banana 84011

Ideally, all foods would be produced organically so we wouldn't have to make the choice between organic and conventional every time we set foot in the supermarket. However, this is not the case, and probably won't be for a very long time as the farming industry is largely controlled by corporations that place higher priority on their bottom line than on the health of the consumer or the environment.  So, until then, I encourage you to buy organic when you can, with a focus on the Dirty Dozen. 

I realize that the cost of organic foods is more expensive in most cases, but wouldn't you rather spend your money in the grocery store than in your medicine cabinet and on doctor bills?  Let's use our buying power to create more demand for organically produced agriculture and animal products. We have to hope that this will have an effect on the supply and, ultimately, the price. 

If you're still not convinced to buy Organic... Whole Foods has 11 more reasons:

•Organic farming meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations.
•Growing organically supports a biologically diverse, healthy environment.
•Organic farming practices help protect our water resources.
•Organic agriculture increases the land's productivity.
•Organic production limits toxic and long-lasting chemicals in our environment.
•Buying organic supports small, independent family farms.
•Organic farmers are less reliant on non-renewable fossil fuels.
•Organic products meet stringent USDA standards.
•Buying organic is a direct investment in the long-term future of our planet.
•Organic farmers preserve diversity of plant species.
•Organic food tastes great.

So, back to the questions from the beginning of this post:  Is it really worth spending the extra $ to go organic? Does it really make a difference? 

What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. i have really tried in the past 6 moths or so to buy organic meat and produce as much as trader joes, it's possible without overspending too much. i keep the rule of thumb that if you are going to eat the whole fruit/vegetable and/or the skin, buy organic - seems to comply pretty well with the checklist above (which i am printing to laminate and put in my wallet, great idea!).