Everyone is talking about eating organic. “Are the things in those treat bags organic?” “If you don’t eat organic while you’re pregnant, you could hurt the baby.” “Well, my little Suzie would never eat anything that wasn’t organic!”
But what does “organic” mean and how does it affect us? Here’s a primer course on organic produce.
What does it mean to be “organic”?
In December 2000, the USDA set some standards about what could be called “organic”. It isn’t really about how it is produced, but rather about how it is not produced. It cannot have most synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, bioengineering, growth hormones, antibiotics, or irradiation.
How is the farming different?
Organic farming is really just how they farmed before the end of World War II. That’s when more synthetic chemicals came into use. It’s farming at its most basic.
Fertilizers: Conventional – Chemical fertilizers; Organic – Natural fertilizers (yup, that means manure sometimes)
Insect deterrents: Conventional – Spray insecticides to protect crops; Organic – Traps, barriers, and insect predators. (Natural insecticides are used as a last resort.)
Weed deterrents: Conventional – Synthetic herbicides; Organic – Hand weeding, crop rotation, mechanical tillage, and (the coolest sounding) flame weeding.
Why is it so darn expensive?
If you comparison shop for the best prices, you’ll notice that organic food is generally more expensive. Sometimes it is just pennies, but the difference can be significant.
Organic produce is more expensive for a few reasons.
First, production costs are higher the smaller the crop. Processing and marketing smaller amounts of food is more expensive.
Second, the amount of labor that goes into a single crop is much higher than with conventional farming. Did you see “hand weeding” on the organic farmer’s list above? Paying someone to hand weed a field isn’t cheap.
Third, organic food supply is limited, and there is a very high demand. Everyone wants to eat organic, but only 2% of the food supply in the U.S. is grown organically.
So, is it worth it?
This is the big question. Is it worth the extra money when you may not have that much extra?
Some organic food supporters claim that organic food is more nutritious. Studies have been done and the nutrition benefits are very few if there are any.
The major concern is that there are noticeably more residual pesticides lingering on conventional produce. That National Research Council has looked into the effects of these pesticides and announced that they cannot be linked to cancer. Even better, most of these pesticides can be removed through proper and thorough washing of the produce.
But, now I’m scared of the pesticides!
Okay, if the pesticides have you worried but you can’t afford to buy everything organic, look for the “Dirty Dozen”. These are the fruits and veggies that are left with the highest amount of residual pesticides. They are (from most to least amount of residual pesticides):
If you want to choose a few foods to buy organic, those would be the ones to start with.
So, now you know the basics of organic produce. If you can and want to buy organic, great! If you can’t or don’t want to, be sure to give your produce a good scrub before handing it to your kids. And then smile – your kids are actually eating something besides chicken nuggets and macaroni.
What organic foods does your family eat?