Food news and advertising in recent history have both been booming with the word “organic” to sway consumers to buy certain products, but most fail to tell us what exactly they mean by “organically produced” and if it is really much different than the conventional products.
Organic foods have the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic label on them. In order to be eligible to receive this label, farmers must apply natural fertilizers, such as manure or compost, to feed soil and plants, give animals organic feed and allow them access to the outdoors, use preventive measures, such as rotational grazing, a balanced diet and clean housing, to help minimize disease and use environmentally-generated plant-killing compounds to manage weeds.
In contrast, conventional farmers have a habit of using chemical fertilizers and synthetic insecticides and herbicides for their plants, and growth hormones for their animals.
So it’s clear that organically produced foods are better for us to consume than conventionally produced foods; however, are organic foods actually more nutritious? According to a report by the National Academy of Sciences, “organic foods may have higher nutritional value than conventional food. The reason: in the absence of pesticides and fertilizers, plants boost their production of the phytochemicals (vitamins and antioxidants) that strengthen their resistance to bugs and weeds. Some studies have linked pesticides in our food to everything from headaches to cancer to birth defects — but many experts maintain that the levels in conventional food are safe for most healthy adults.”
If you are interested in helping the environment, then you may want to look into buying organic products. According to the Organic Trade Association, organic farming reduces pollutants in groundwater and creates richer soil that aids plant growth while reducing erosion.
Now that the want for organically farmed products is growing, you may come across false labeling. First, the product should have the USDA label on it. Organic labels could say 100 percent organic or just simply organic. For those that don’t include the 100 percent, it means that the product is at least 95 percent organic. Anything below this percentage will merely include “made with organic ingredients” on the label. Also, “all natural," “free-range or “hormone-free” do not mean organic. Something is only deemed organic if it meets the USDA growing and processing requirements.
The depressing truth about organic foods is that they do, in fact, cost significantly more than the conventional foods. There are a few foods (specifically, the “dirty dozen," according to the Environmental Working Group) in which the organic option would be the best. This “dirty dozen” includes peaches, strawberries, nectarines, apples, spinach, celery, pears, sweet bell peppers, cherries, potatoes, lettuce, and imported grapes.
These fragile fruits and vegetables often require more pesticides to fight off bugs compared to hardier produce, such as asparagus and broccoli. Opting for the organic option would prevent you from consuming any chemical pesticides.
Farmers markets tend to carry organic foods that won’t burn a hole in your pocket. To find one in your area, go to www.localharvest.org.