The word organic seems to be everywhere. It is on the supermarket shelves and in the produce aisles of every American supermarket. I was even asked the other day if I wanted an organic manicure. But is it really a better choice? Is it worth the increased cost? Do I always need to buy organic?
To first answer these questions we should understand what organic really means. For a food to be organically produced it must meet the following regulations:
• Meats, poultry and eggs are from animals given no growth hormones or antibiotics
• Livestock are given organic feeds and live in conditions that allow for “exercise, freedom of movement and reduction of stress”
• Products are not genetically engineered or irradiated
• Crops are grown on land that has not been fertilized with sewage, sludge or chemical fertilizers
• Soil health is managed through crop rotation and application of plant and animal fertilizers
• Pests are primarily dealt with by insect predators, traps, and natural repellants
• Weeds are controlled by mulching (covering an area of land loosely with some material) or hand weeding without the use of chemical herbicides
• “Made with Organic Ingredients”: At least 70 percent of ingredients are organic. The remaining 30 percent must come from the USDA’s approved list. The USDA Organic Seal cannot be used on these products.
In addition, different labeling terms are used to describe the percentage of organic ingredients that are found in a product:
• “100% Organic”: Only organically produced ingredients allowed. These products may use the USDA Organic seal.
• “Organic”: At least 95 percent of ingredients are organically produced. These products may also use the USDA Organic Seal.
Sometimes you might see “free-range” or “free-roaming” on a label. This term may mean the animal has spent a good portion of its life outdoors; however, the government’s standards are weak and therefore should be seen as a meaningless label. The same holds true for “Natural” or “All Natural”.
Deciding which organic products to purchase is difficult. We can all relate to walking through the produce aisle and passing strawberries for $2.99 a box only to look again and find the organic version for $6.99. Which one is a better choice? Am I really comfortable paying more than double for the same fruit? Is the organic version really better?
If you do want to incorporate organic foods into your diet, you can start small. Try buying organic fruits and vegetables that are the most vulnerable to pesticides and chemicals in conventional farming. The top 12 found to have the highest level of pesticide residue are: apples, peaches, strawberries, pears, grapes, raspberries, spinach, potatoes, green beans, winter squash, cucumber, bell peppers, cherries and cantaloupe.
I would add milk and dairy products, as well as baby food, to the list of foods to possibly purchase organic. Children’s bodies are especially vulnerable to toxins; therefore, they may be at risk for higher exposure. In addition, baby food is often made up of condensed fruits and vegetables, potentially concentrating pesticide residues. If you have a favorite fruit or vegetable and is often eaten, I might consider purchasing the organic version.
Conversely, broccoli, bananas, frozen sweet peas, frozen corn, pineapple, mango, kiwi, cabbage, papaya, asparagus, avocados, and onions have a low level of pesticides in their conventional form. Therefore, it may not be necessary to eat organic. In addition, there are no government regulated guidelines for “organic” seafood. Thus, at this time there is no reason to feel obligated to purchase “organic” seafood.
So does buying organic make sense? Sometimes.