What does "Organic" mean?
Food certified under U.S. Dept. of Agriculture regulations as organic must be produced without most synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Antibiotics, growth hormones, and feed made from animal parts are also banned.
Aren't All Natural Foods Organic?
No, they're not. Foods may be free of artificial ingredients, or labeled "natural", but still grown by conventional methods. The term "organic" on the label means the food has been grown and processed according to strict guidelines, carefully documented and certified.
Is buying Organic worth the extra money?
Is organic worth the extra money? Research has yet to prove an adverse health effect from consuming the levels of the lowest pesticide load commonly found in U.S. food. But for the most vulnerable groups -- children and pregnant women -- going organic whenever possible for fruits and vegetables that carry the heaviest pesticide load makes sense. For organic meat, poultry, eggs, and milk, the direct health benefit is less clear. It might come down to your willingness to pay more to avoid supporting certain agricultural practices, such as antibiotic use in animals, which could promote resistant bacterial strains, or the use of growth hormones, which could prematurely wear down the animal.
Why Does Organic Food Cost More?
Along with the simple rules of supply and demand, we must remember that prices fluctuate in our economy. Organic food prices are coming down, on the whole, and are expected to continue as supply grows. Organic farming is also more labor-intensive than conventional farming, and usually takes place on a smaller scale than the so-called "chemical agribusiness" factory farms.
In the United States, conventional farming has often been subsidized by taxpayer funds through the government. Some believe that this keep the price of conventional food artificially low, not reflecting the true cost of bringing food to market. Costs are externalized. Organic farmers do not receive these subsidies, and thus the self price may actually reflect a truer market cost.
The long-term price of conventional farming, in terms of the damage to our soil, water, farmworkers' and children's health, and the loss of a family farm lifestyle, is great. We pay these costs when taxpayers fund environmental cleanup or health care costs. This must be taken into account when measuring the costs and benefits of buying organic and our bodies.
What if a label says "pesticide-free," not "organic" — what's the difference?
Pesticide-free is just that, but you have to take it on faith. The producers aren't inspected to make sure they're doing what they say while Organic producers are inspected.
Are there nutritional benefits to eating organic fruits and vegetables?
Children who eat organic foods have lower levels of pesticides in their bodies than those fed industrial foods.
A few studies show that organic foods are higher in minerals and some vitamins, but the increments are small. The real point of organics is better production methods so fewer chemicals will be polluting the soil and water.
*For more information see links below
Top ways to buy Organic Food for less money:
1. Shop at farmers' markets.
2. Buy a share in a community-supported agriculture program.
3. Join a co-op.
4. Join a buying club.
5. Buy in bulk.
6. Buy big in-season.
7. Grow your own.
Top Fruits and Vegetables To Buy Organic (the list below contains items which are more likely to contain pesticides when purchased conventionally)
Green & Red Bell Peppers
Hard Winter Squash
GMO - like Corn and Soy
USDA — ams.usda.gov
The Web site of the agricultural marketing service division of the USDA has the complete list of organic standards and a handy map of farmers' markets nationwide.
Local Harvest — localharvest.org
Head here for a directory of small farms and farmers' markets anywhere in the country. There's also an online store with products from family farms.
Check out the Web site of this grassroots organization for information on the politics of organic and sustainable agriculture, and for the latest organic news.
Image by Maren Caruso