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Your food... about organics
 
Produce

Fast & Easy Info

  • Growing food without pesticides, antibiotics and growth hormones is essential if we're going to protect not just our environment but our health.
  • Pesticides that are applied to conventionally grown crops have been linked to disorders in the central nervous system and other illnesses, as well as serious environmental problems like contaminated groundwater and reproductive failure, mutations and even extinction of birds and other animals.
  • Scientists worry that hormones which have been fed to beef and dairy cattle can ultimately affect child development.
  • Research presented at England's Soil Association's annual conference in January 2005 found that milk from cows raised organically had 75% higher levels of beta-carotene, 50% higher levels of vitamin E, and was two to three times richer in the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthine.
  • Dr Charles Benbrook of The Organic Center found that organic fruits and vegetables averaged 33% more antioxidants than conventionally grown produce in 13 out of 15 studies.
  • The amount of organic food available to us in supermarkets is minuscule; only between 2% and 4% of the total food supply is considered organic.
  • Organic food sales are growing 15-21 percent each year, according to Forbes magazine; two-thirds of Americans report buying at least some organic foods.
 
 

Dollars & Sense Options: How to Afford Organics

  • Comparison shop. Check prices among grocery stores so you know where to find the lowest costs. In my neighborhood, the food coop is more expensive than Whole Foods Market, which is more expensive than the Giant grocery store. Due to consumer demand, Giant is carrying an increasing supply of organic products, including its own, affordable brand. You can also compare prices on line. Check out www.eatwellguide.org and www.theorganicpages.com.
  • Buy in season . It's always cheaper to buy foods that are grown in season, rather than imports that have to travel from another hemisphere to satisfy your palate.
  • Buy local . Browse farmers markets and roadside stands for locally grown organic produce.
  • Support CSAs . Buy a share in community-supported agriculture, choosing a local organic farm that supplies you with a weekly shopping bag or two of fruits and vegetables. Check with Local Harvest for the farmers market or CSA nearest you.
  • Buy in bulk. And always shop sales. You may be able to find coupons at All Organic Links. Another way to find coupons is to check the containers the food comes in. Some have printed coupons on or in them.
  • Grow your own. Talk about cheap!. All it will cost you is the price of the seeds, water, compost (unless you make your own), and some work with the shovel and hoe.
For more suggestions, see "17 Tips for Buying Organic Food on the Cheap."

For Your Shopping List:

 
Produce

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a research and advocacy organization in Washington , D.C. , eating the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables exposes consumers to about 20 pesticides a day on average. Eating the 12 least contaminated foods reduces pesticide exposure to about two pesticides a day. EWG says reducing pesticide exposure is smart since the cumulative effect of even low-level, multiple exposures to pesticides could be quite serious. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency believes that infants and children may be especially sensitive to health risks posed by pesticides because their internal organs are still developing and maturing. Plus, in relation to their body weight, infants and children eat and drink more than adults, possibly increasing their exposure to pesticides in food and water .

Some fruits and vegetables are more likely than others to retain pesticides after they are harvested. Given that organic foods can be more expensive than those grown using pesticides, Environmental Working Group and other organizations say consumers who want to economize and still shop organically should focus their shopping dollars on the following produce first. If organic is not available, wash and peel (where possible) the produce before eating it, or choose fruits and veggies that are consistently less contaminated.

Organic Food Purchase Priorities

You can get EWG's wallet-size advisory guide to take with you when you shop here.

Buying organic meat and dairy products is also becoming an increasing priority for many consumers. Antibiotics that are used to treat animals may promote antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria in humans. Cows fattened on animal feed made with parts from dead animal parts run the risk of contracting mad cow disease, which could be passed along to people. Milk from cows treated with bovine growth hormone may increase some cancer risks. Most grocery stores carry at least one brand of organic milk, if not more. Organic meat is more difficult to come by. Consumers Union recommends avoiding processed meats such as hot dogs and preground hamburger, among other steps, in When Buying Organic Pays (and Doesn't). Also see Meat, Seafood, Poultry here.

What does "organic" mean?

According to USDA's 2002 Organic Standards, organic food producers cannot use pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or sewage sludge, hormones, antibiotics, ionizing radiation, or biotechnology. Instead, farmers must "emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations." USDA provides a seal so farmers can let consumers know that at least 95% of the ingredients in their products are grown organically. Foods that are at least 70% organic can bear the phrase "Made With Organic Ingredients." Animal products certified as organic must come from livestock that have access to the outdoors, have not been treated with hormones or antibiotics and have been raised on organic feed.

Some producers who don't get certified by the USDA still claim their food offers some of the benefits described under USDA's organic standards guidelines. They might label their products "free range," "natural," "hormone-free," "good for the Earth," "sustainably produced," or anything else that makes them sound like they're good for you and the environment. These claims might be valid. They might also be intended to give the companies a marketing boost; if the claims are unverified, they won't necessarily represent practices that protect you or the environment.

If you want to be absolutely sure that the food you're buying is organic, look for the USDA Organic Seal or the federally-sanctioned words "Made with Organic Ingredients." If you're confused about a claim a farmer or food producer is making, you can research it at www.eco-labels.org.

You can also visit a company's website to review the environmental claims they make about their products. Look for hard scientific evidence and third-party verification to back up a company's claims.

The Food Alliance operates the most comprehensive third-party certification program in North America for "sustainably" produced food. Food Alliance certified T feels that it goes beyond the USDA organic label by distinguishing foods produced by farmers and ranchers who provide safe and fair working conditions, promote healthy and humane treatment of animals; raise animals without added hormones and antibiotics; grow crops without genetically modified organisms, reduce the use of pesticides; conserve soil and water resources; and preserve and protect wildlife habitat. TFA-approved foods can be bought throughout the Midwest and Pacific Northwest.

Want to eat organically at a restaurant? See Green Restaurant Certification & the Perks of Green Dining

Need more proof that organic is better for you? The Organic Consumers Association offers a good explanation here.

One last thing. Ideally, you'll be able to find food that is both locally grown and organic. How do you choose when that's not possible?

Local growers strengthen your local economy and probably use less energy transporting their produce from the farm gate to your kitchen plate. Organic produce may be available in the supermarket - but it might come from New Zealand , Latin America , or even the other side of the country to get to where you live, racking up huge energy costs and losing a lot of flavor in the process.

Personally, I try to have it all. Whenever possible, I buy locally grown, organic fruits and vegetables. If I shop in season, I'm more likely to meet my food shopping goals. But if I have to, I put my health first. Fruits and vegetables that can't be cleaned adequately (like raspberries or cherries), I buy organic, even if they come from afar. Ultimately, I hope my choice will encourage local growers to adopt more organic growing methods. The best way to send that message is by putting my money where my mouth is.literally.

 

 
 

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