Buying Organic- Media Hype or Better Health?

Organic- 100% Organic- USDA Certified Organic.. .It is impossible to walk into any grocery store these days without at least noticing the efforts of producers to label their food “ORGANIC.” As consumers, we often stand in front of the organic sections of stores, debating their value and attempting to justify the costs.

Organic foods, as determined by the USDA. are foods “raised, grown, and processed without the use of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides. antibiotics, and hormones.” Farmers that follow the USDA guidelines can seek the organic label through an accredited agency. Small farmers (sales under $5000 per year) can follow USDA organic guidelines and label their products as organic.

The organic food industry has grown from $1 billion in 1990 to $26.7 billion in 2010. Certified organic acreage has also increased in the US. This same pattern is repeating itself globally with global organic sales reaching $55 billion.

These statistics have not gone unrecognized by conventional and corporate producers. Most recently, the Agricultural Insecticide and Fungicide Associations of North America, re-branded as Crop Life America, have collaborated with bigger producers to launch a public relations campaign aimed to minimize consumer fears about pesticide use.

Benefits of Organic Foods

While researchers continue to debate the benefits of organic foods, many physicians, nutritionists and other health practitioners do recommend buying organic. A 2001 study compared many fruits and vegetables consumed today to their 1963 counterparts. only to find that our current foods have almost half the vitamin content than those in the past. Subsequent studies have also shown that organically grown food are higher in antioxidants, higher in certain minerals and higher in polyphenols.

Organic foods are also typically pesticide free. As the health risks of pesticide exposure become more apparent, the need for more organic produce increases. Many studies continue to tie pesticide exposure to ADHD. lower IQ levels, Parkinson’s disease, and hormonal imbalances in women and adolescents.

As a parent and physician, I like many others do not want to wait for the results of the Organic Debate. There are many benefits to “going organic.” These include:

  1. Pesticide free foods/produce
  2. Higher nutrition value compared to conventional produce
  3. Better taste
  4. Stewardship of Natural Resources including air, water and soil. Organic farming is sustainable and works to preserve soil rather than destroy it.
  5. Decreased exposure of chemicals to young children and newborns. Many chemicals can now be detected in utero.
  6. Buying Organic

Given the benefits of organic produce, is it worth the higher cost? The USDA does work with organic farmers to help decrease some of the costs of certification. but organic farming is more expensive than conventional farming. These costs are then passed down to consumers like us. standing back in the grocery aisles debating our purchases.

I do not think it is necessary to buy everything organic. There are many helpful websites and tools to help educate consumers. The Environmental Working Group puts together a “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides” that can be found on their website. They also have put together a list of the “Dirty Dozen” or best foods to buy organic.

I would also recommend buying organic dairy, eggs, and meat.

For the budget conscious, there are foods that are not as contaminated with pesticides and buying organic may not be as important.

When buying organic, I think it is important to keep your goals and values in mind. If you are attempting to simply minimize exposure to chemicals and pesticides, following the above guide is helpful in controlling costs while still decreasing chemical exposure and maximizing health benefits.

If, however, you are hoping to contribute to sustainability of resources, then buying organic may mean more than chemical exposure and nutritional content of food. For many, buying organic is an attempt to control the sustainability of our natural resources and drive our economic powers towards stewardship of our communities for generations to come.

Categories: Debate & Discussion