The reporter John Stossel recently came under attack when he called out the “organic” food industry as saying that its products were “expensive and pointless.” His argument is that the foods that are not organic are just as good for you — not that he believes people shouldn’t have the right to choose them, but just that people shouldn’t be told that non-organic food is bad.
In fact, soon after he was attacked, the New York Times reported on a study by Kenneth Chang from Stanford University that states “fruits and vegetables labeled organic were, on average, no more nutritious than their conventional counterparts, which tend to be far less expensive. … Researchers also found no obvious health advantages to organic meats.”
Unfortunately, one way people think they are buying healthy food is to buy organic food. Here is some information on what organic means and how it differs from conventionally grown food. The word “organic” refers to the way farmers grow and process agricultural products, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products and meat. Organic farming practices are designed to encourage soil and water conservation and reduce pollution. Here are a few major differences:
n Conventional farmers apply chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth and use chemical herbicides to manage weeds. Organic farmers apply natural fertilizers, such as manure or compost, to feed soil and rotate crops, till, hand weed or mulch to manage weeds.
n Conventional farmers spray insecticides to reduce pests and disease and organic farmers use beneficial insects and birds, mating disruption or traps to reduce pests and disease.
n Conventional farmers give animals antibiotics, growth hormones and medications to prevent disease and spur growth. Organic farmers give animals organic feed and allow them access to the outdoors and use preventive measures such as rotational grazing, a balanced diet and clean housing to help minimize disease.
If a food bears a USDA Organic label, it means it’s produced and processed according to the USDA standards and that at least 95 percent of the food’s ingredients are organically produced. Foods containing less than 70 percent organic ingredients can’t use the USDA seal or the word “organic” on their product label. You may see other terms on food labels such as “all-natural,” “free-range” or “hormone-free.” These descriptions may be important to you, but don’t confuse them with organic. Consider these factors when deciding on organic food:
n Nutrition: No conclusive evidence shows that organic food is more nutritious than is conventionally grown food.
n Quality and appearance: Because the main difference lies in how the food is produced, processed and handled, you may find that organic fruits and vegetables spoil faster because they aren’t treated with waxes or preservatives. Also, expect less-than-perfect appearances in some organic produce.
n Pesticides: Some people buy organic food to limit their exposure to the residues left by some pesticides. Most experts agree, however, that the amount of pesticides found on fruits and vegetables poses a very small health risk.
n Environment: Some people buy organic food for environmental reasons. Organic farming practices are designed to benefit the environment by reducing pollution and conserving water and soil.
n Cost: Most organic food costs more than conventional food products. Higher prices are due to more expensive and labor-intensive farming practices, tighter government regulations and lower crop yields.
n Taste: Taste is a subjective and personal consideration, so decide for yourself. But whether you buy organic or not, finding the freshest foods available may have the biggest impact on taste.
n Mike DeCinti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-827-2439.