sales of organic foods have been increasing by about 20 percent
a year over the past decade. That is over ten times the rate
of their conventional counterparts. This year organic food
sales are expected to rise to six billion dollars. So what
are organic foods and are they better for you?
Foods that carry the green USDA Organic seal have been grown
and processed according to strict criteria, as verified by
private or state organizations. The use of most conventional
pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers, genetically modified
organisms, irradiation, and sewage sludge is prohibited. Animals
are raised on 100% organic feed and are not given antibiotics
or growth hormones. If they get sick and need antibiotics,
they are removed from the other animals and not sold as organic.
(No meat or dairy products of any kind are legally allowed
to contain detectable antibiotic residues, however). The animals
must also have access to the outdoors, though in factory farms
(a growing trend in the organic industry) they may never actually
go outside or spend much time in pasture. A new proposal by
the National Organic Standards Board aims to close this loophole
for dairy cows, by specifying how much time they must spend
in pasture eating grass, as opposed to eating grains in feedlots.
100% organic, all the ingredients must be organic. Organicmeans
at least 95% of the ingredients (by weight, excluding water
and salt) are organic. Made with organic ingredients means
at least 70%. Products with less than 70% organic ingredients
may not use the term on the front of the package, but can
list the organic ingredients individually.
70 percent of the public believes that the organic label on
food products means they are safer to eat and better for the
environment according to a survey by the National Center for
Public Policy. Organic farming does have its advantages. It
conserves water and soil resources, recycles animal waste,
releases fewer chemicals, improves soil fertility, promotes
diversity of crops, and protects farm workers, livestock,
and wildlife from potentially harmful pesticides. But are
organic foods safer than conventional foods? Keep in mind
that organic foods can be contaminated with bacteria and pesticides
depending on the farming environment. They are also more expensive
than conventional foods, but do offer a better nutritional
value and sometimes even a better taste.
foods are not always safer than conventional foods. Botanical
and a few synthetic pesticides are allowed to be used in organic
production, and small amounts of residues may end up in the
final product. Some contamination is also unavoidable because
conventional pesticides and other agricultural chemicals are
ubiquitous in the environment and can drift from neighboring
farms onto organic fields. But studies show that compared
to conventional foods, organic foods contain pesticide residues
less often and in lower amounts. Pesticides may present a
danger to farm workers and there is some evidence that low-level
residues in conventional or organic foods are harmful to consumers.
Also, since organic foods are grown with manure, there may
be a greater risk of bacterial contamination. Animal waste
is used as a fertilizer instead of synthetic chemicals on
organic foods, and this animal waste may contain dangerous
bacteria. Although the manure is composted to kill the bacteria,
uncertified farmers may not always follow the proper procedure.
have found higher levels of nutrients in organic produce,
but others have found little or no difference. Nutrient levels
in foods are determined by many factors, including the plant
variety, soil quality, climate, when the plant is harvested,
and how it's processed and stored. Interestingly, several
studies have shown that organically grown fruits and vegetables
have more phytochemicals than conventionally grown produce.
Plants make these compounds as natural defenses against pests
and ultraviolet radiation. If the farmer provides pesticides,
the theory goes, the plant makes less; if they're not applied,
the plant makes more itself. But whether this makes any difference
good or bad to the person eating the plant food is unknown.
health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables such as lower
rates of cancer, stroke, and other diseases far outweigh any
potential risks. Still, the thought of pesticides on fruits
and vegetables may still concern some consumers, so here are
some ways to reduce exposure to pesticides. One should choose
foods that are free of dirt, cuts, insect holes, decay, and
mold. Also, selecting produce that has thick skins, husks,
or hulls (like bananas, melons, and citrus fruits) reduces
exposure to pesticides because the skins are harder to permeate.
Before eating fruits and vegetables, they should be scrubbed
using a hard produce brush and washed under cold water. Cooking
or baking foods will also reduce pesticide residues, as will
canning, freezing, or drying foods. Finally, one should eat
a varied diet to reduce exposure to any single pesticide.