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Organic Food-Is it Right for You?


There are so many questions people have about organic food. Why is it more expensive? Is it really better for you? Is it safer, or is it actually less safe? How do you know that a food is really organic? And what does organic actually mean, anyway?

Organic food is known for being grown without the use of chemicals that are thought to be harmful. Organic animals are raised without antibiotics or growth hormones. The overall goal of organic farming is not only to provide healthy food to human beings, but also to protect the environment from toxic herbicides and pesticides.

The National Organic Program, or NOP, which is part of the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture), developed national organic standards and established a national organic certification program based on the recommendations of a group of experts in this field. These experts include a farmer or grower, a food handler or processor, a retailer, a specialist in consumer or public interest issues, an environmentalist, a scientist and a certifying agent.

What are the labeling standards?

There are strict rules about what types of labeling organic farmers and food producers are allowed to use. For example:

  • Labels that say "100 percent organic" must contain only organic ingredients, and labels that say "Organic" must have 95 percent of their ingredients organic. Both of these categories qualify for the USDA Organic seal.
  • Products with labels saying, "Made with Organic Ingredients," must be made of 70 percent organic ingredients. The USDA Organic seal may not be used on packaging.
  • If products contain fewer than 70 percent organic ingredients, they can't state on their packaging that they're organic, but they may indicate which ingredients are organic.

    People who make false claims about organic foods can face a penalty of up to $10,000.00.

    Should you go organic?

    Obviously, individual consumers must decide for themselves whether they want to consume more organic foods. It's been difficult to pinpoint the exact danger levels of pesticides, but experts agree that too many of these compounds can increase the risk of cancer, suppress the immune system and possibly even have a negative effect on the human reproductive system.

    On the other hand, organic food isn't always easy to get. In many grocery stores, organic vegetables are wilted and maybe even spoiled by the time they reach the shelf. If that's the case, non-damaged, non-organic food is certainly the healthier choice.

    Additionally, organic food is generally more expensive than non-organic food. It's often not possible to switch to organic foods simply because of financial restraints.

    A "middle-of-the-road" approach

    Many people are better able to take the "middle road" on organic foods. They're not willing or able to change to an all-organic diet completely, but they want to increase the amount of organic food they consume over all. If this approach appeals to you, you can choose to buy organic foods selectively.

    The following foods tend to have the highest levels of pesticides when not grown organically: peaches, apples, strawberries, nectarines, pears, cherries, red raspberries, imported grapes, spinach, bell peppers, celery, potatoes, hot peppers. These are foods that you may want to choose to eat organically.

    On the flip side, the following foods tend to be lower in pesticide levels when not grown organically: pineapples, plantains, mangoes, bananas, watermelon, plums, kiwi, blueberries, papaya, grapefruit, avocado, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, radishes, broccoli, onions, okra, cabbage, eggplant. These may be a safer choice if you can't choose the organic versions. Remember that thorough washing and removal of the outer skin can help to remove some pesticide residue, although washing cannot remove all pesticides completely.

    The Environmental Working Group; The National Organic Program; U.S. Department of Agriculture
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