To buy organic or not to buy organic—that is the question. The answer is perhaps a tad more convoluted. Nietzsche, after all, wrote, “…there are no absolute truths.”
There are those who believe the government’s first job is to protect its citizens, and that includes food safety. And there are those who argue it isn’t even on the job description.
Regardless of which group you fall in, it boils down to choice. You have a choice as to whether to protect your own health and safety or trust in someone else to do it. That said, there are still no absolutes.
First off, even the moniker “organic” doesn’t necessarily mean a product is 100% organic. Government regulations, due to heavy lobbying by the commercial food industry, have become far more relaxed than you might realize. Processed foods in particular are suspect—corn is virtually always genetically modified in the USA nowadays, second only to soy, and therefore not organic. Check the list of ingredients and you’ll see it is used in virtually every prepared food, whether it claims to be organic or not. It takes many forms, including corn syrup, the most commonly used sweetener. If you buy prepared foods, it’s a fair bet that you’re eating genetically modified organisms (GMOs) daily even if you don’t realize it. Whether it’s safe long term remains to be seen. Even if you see an item that is labeled USDA Organic, it only means it consists of at least 95% organic ingredients; the other 5% is either nonagricultural or approved non-organic ingredients on the USDA’s national list.
So, if you’re going to spring for the potentially heftier price tag associated with the organic label, stick to items that really are 100% organic—eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, oils, dairy products (milk, butter, cheese, ice cream, yogurt) and other items that have one or few ingredients and all certified organic.
Organic fruits and vegetables are a healthy option when you consider the fact that no toxic pesticides are utilized in their cultivation, however, it pays to do your homework. Many fruits and vegetables are thick-skinned and peeled in the preparation process. Most thick- or hard-skinned produce do not absorb significant amounts of pesticides and a good wash before using is sufficient. In fact, you should always wash your produce—the fact that it’s organic doesn’t mean it hasn’t come into contact with bacteria from being handled. Even pre-washed vegetables benefit from another rinse before putting them in your mouth.
… an item that is labeled USDA Organic, it only means it consists of at least 95% organic ingredients; the other 5% is either nonagricultural or approved non-organic ingredients …
Washing and peeling aren’t enough, however, to remove pesticides from highly absorbent fruits and vegetables not grown organically. Peaches, nectarines, apples, strawberries and other berries, cherries and grapes (that includes raisins) rank high on the pesticide-laden scale. If your kids drink fruit juices, most of which contain grape juice, you might want to consider organic juices, which means they also won’t contain GMO corn from added sweeteners.
Pesticide-absorbing vegetables include all types of peppers, tomatoes (including the cherry and grape varieties), green beans, carrots, cauliflower and celery. Leafy greens of all types, particularly spinach, can also contain high levels of pesticides. That includes collards, mustard and turnip greens, and kale. Potatoes often get a double-dose—pesticide sprays on the foliage and soil-drenching fungicides.
If you have to make a choice between local produce versus organic that’s been imported, choose local because it’s fresher and therefore more nutritious. If your choice is between non-organic versus organic produce that’s all grown locally, the organic is a healthier choice.
It’s important to remember that off-season items and those imported regularly from outside the USA often come from countries where regulations are not as stringent. Limiting purchases to in-season or USA-grown organic sources are your best bet. Imported organic coffee beans are another good choice for that reason.
Smart organic choices extend to livestock, too. Organic cuts of meats derive from animals raised on organic feed and exposed to fresh air, but also haven’t been shot up with antibiotics and growth hormones. The standard practice today of factory farming pens animals in so tightly that animals cannot even turn around in many cases. As a result, diseases are rampant. Those animals, therefore, are routinely administered heavy doses of antibiotics as a preventative. Organically raised livestock are not permitted to be dosed up with preventative antibiotics and thus must be raised in healthier environments. Plus, organic feed cannot contain meat by-products. Feeding animals meat by-products caused the massive spread of mad cow disease.
The same goes for poultry, those used for eggs as well as meat. Organic eggs are bred from chickens free of antibiotics and added hormones; chickens that are raised on organic feed. Additionally, organic eggs are not subject to the obligatory chemical washes given to ordinary eggs that leach through the permeable shells. Buying free range isn’t sufficient; when it comes to eggs, buy organic. White or brown, it makes no difference.
Dairy marked “rBGH-free” means it comes from cows not dosed with growth hormones designed to artificially beef up production, something for which the USA does not require a warning. If you want to avoid these and antibiotics, stick to organic dairy products, including yogurt, cheese and ice cream, particularly for children whose development is far more sensitive to the effects of additives.
Budget is an issue for all of us these days. So, when choosing organic, stick to items that you know really are organic—100% Organic—including fruits and juices, vegetables, oils, eggs, meats, and dairy products.
Buy smart. Live smart.
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