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
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
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
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
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
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
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