Monday, October 3, 2011

Does buying Organic really make produce safer?

by:  Tara Fuller

Mom always said: "Eat your veggies" and that's exactly what you did.  You may not have liked the vegetables selected for you, but you ate because frankly, what other choice did you really have?  Now a mother, you likely find yourself mimicking those same words to your own child, if not to yourself as you scoop up a bite of your not so favorite vegetable or fruit.  This on-going battle continues from generation to generation because the health benefits of a diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables are key components for improving health and reducing many prevalent health ailments. 

However, unlike the days of our parents, shopping for produce has become much more complicated. No longer can we just grab and go but instead, we must weed through isles upon isles of produce bins labeled with terms such as conventional, organic and local.  And if this weren't enough, now we throw GMOs in the mix.  Yes, deciphering which apple is the healthiest has become quite complex and can be very time consuming and expensive.

So does buying organics really make them safer? In theory yes, because when you buy organic produce it means the food was grown without synthetic pesticides, genetic engineering or irradiation; which when given in high amounts (significantly higher amounts than commonly found in food) to animals, are proven to cause cancer and birth defects among other serious health issues.  However, despite these studies, the amount of these substances consumed from food has not been linked to any adverse health effects in humans.  Some experts go as far to say, just because it's organic doesn't mean it's going to be better or cleaner.  The argument is that because many farms use manure as a fertilizer as well as 100 different pesticides, which can be used on organics, doesn't eliminate all contamination.  This is why, despite whether or not that cantaloupe was grown organically or not, it is important to wash the melon thoroughly before slicing into it. 

Knowledge is power.  And you may think to yourself that just because scientists haven't proved a link between non-organic foods and adverse health effects, you would rather avoid what you can just to be safe.  But, you can't afford the cost of organics, so what can you do?  There is another option.  Buying locally grown foods are usually less expensive than organic and although not certified, often meet the same standards as does organically grown foods.  The reason many small farmers don't label their products as organic is because they aren't able to afford USDA certification.

Another reason to consider locally grown foods as opposed to organic are because they are local.  First and foremost, buying locally grown foods typically taste better because they are harvested at just the right time for consumption.  Whereas many conventional and organic products are picked well before their maturity and left to ripen on trucks, boats and planes as they make their cross-country and/or intercontinental journey to your local grocer.  In a nutshell, buying local keeps harmful toxins out of your body, supports your local economy and reduces environmental pollution caused from transportation; and it tastes good!    

Unfortunately, buying organic and locally grown foods aren't viable options for many people struggling in today's difficult economic condition.  It can be costly and outright unobtainable for millions of families.  And it is important parents understand that buying conventional doesn't make them bad parents!  Above all, the most important thing you can do for yourself and your family is to eat as many fruits and vegetables as you possibly can!  The benefits of consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetable far outweigh any risks of pesticide and hormone exposure.

If you can afford to make some changes, each year, Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases the  "Dirty Dozen" fruits and vegetables that they recommend should be bought organic as well as the "cleanest" fruits and vegetables; which contain the least amount of pesticide exposure.  EWG recommends shoppers use the lists as a guide when shopping for produce as a way to lower pesticide intake. 

Print your own EWG's 2011 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce™

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