Why Buy Organic? A look at the benefits of buying organic
published in The Co-op Connect, a newsletter of the Cleveland Food Co-op February 2007
With new magazines dedicated to organic living hitting the news racks faster than you can say “sustainable agriculture,” one has to wonder if the upsurge in the availability of organic groceries isn’t just a trend. Certainly, companies are responding to eager consumers willing to shell out five bucks for a half gallon of organic milk, but for good reason.
Health-conscious market-goers have grown in number, yearning for foods grown without pesticides and herbicides and with sustainable farming practices. Worldwide, the organic market has grown by 20% a year since the early 1990s.
Are Organic Foods Really Better for You?
The US Department of Agriculture makes no claims that organic foods are healthier, but recent studies show a dramatic decrease in pesticide levels in children restricted to an all-organic diet.
There is evidence that pollutants such as the chemicals in conventional pesticides can interfere with the developing brain and immune system, so that organic foods are a more particular concern for infants and young children. Pesticide residue may also be a concern for those with compromised immune systems or chronic illnesses.
Among those working in agriculture, organic farmers have dramatically less incidence of both minor and major health problems associated with pesticide and herbicide exposure. These associated problems include abdominal pain, dizziness, headaches, nausea, vomiting, as well as skin and eye problems, respiratory problems, memory disorders, dermatologic conditions, cancer, depression, neurological deficits, miscarriages, and birth defects.
Safer for the Earth
Many consumers of organic foods also feel a strong dedication to protecting the environment. Research has shown that since organic agriculture does not release synthetic pesticides and herbicides into the environment, organic farms help protect local wildlife and are better at sustaining diverse ecosystems than their conventional counterparts. Organic farms also waste less energy and produce less waste such as packaging for chemicals.
Identifying Organic Foods
Some organic foods, especially those in packages, will sport the USDA Organic seal, signifying that they have met certain government regulations and that the product is at least 95 percent organic. The use of the seal is voluntary, however, so there are foods without it which may still be certified organic.
There are also foods that are grown in accordance with certain state organic laws, which are often more strict than federal regulations, as well as foods certified by a third party organization such as Quality Assurance International. A search of the packaging should yield some language labeling the product organic.
Organic produce can be identified by the code that it bears: organic items have a five digit code usually beginning with 9, whereas conventionally grown produce carries a three or four digit code. Organic bulk items at the Food Co-op will say organic on the bin, or for pre-packaged bulk, will have an orange “organic” sticker.
The Cost of Organic
Organic foods are often expensive. Organic products typically cost 10 to 40% more than similar conventionally produced products.
To help consumers make the most of their organic food budget, the Environmental Working Group identified the 12 most and least contaminated fruits and vegetables. The “Dirty Dozen” establishes those fruits and vegetables that retain the most pesticide residue and which should therefore be purchased organic whenever possible. The 12 least contaminated fruits and vegetables are considered safe in their conventionally grown form. See sidebar, “The Dirty Dozen”
A full list of 43 fruits and veggies ranked according to pesticide residue can be found at the Environmental Working Group’s website: http://www.foodnews.org/
Look for organic foods throughout the Co-op.
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