Is Organic Food Healthier?

Which foods are worth buying organic? What are the health benefits? And did you know that some organic farming methods are harmful to the environment and the food? Did you know that organic farmers are free to use some harmful chemicals on their crops? Read on.
Organic Food is produced according to legally regulated standards, created by the U.S.D.A, in 2002. For crops, it means they were grown without the use of conventional pesticides, artificial fertilizers or sewage sludge, and that they were processed without ionizing radiation or food additives. Natural chemicals — some harmful — are still allowed. For animals, it means they were reared without the routine use of antibiotics and without the use of growth hormones. Also, at all levels, organic food is produced without the use of genetically modified organisms.
Many people buy organic to support the environment. The keyword here is “synthetic.” Others buy it also because of the health benefits of organic food. But what are those benefits? I’ll list them here.
An article in the WSJ, “When Buying Organic Makes Sense – and When it doesn’t,” By Betsy McKay January 16, 2007; Page D1, recommends this: The peel of nonorganic banana gets thrown away anyway. So why pay extra for organic? To support organic farmers — is a good reason — buy know why you’re doing it. It’s not necessarily better nutrition.

The WSJ is interested in organics — Sales in 2005 reached $14 billion, and an annual growth of roughly 20%.

Recent E. coli outbreaks have made some consumers wonder if eating organic baby spinach or other produce might reduce their risk. Organic farming methods may actually increase the risk. From the WSJ:
“Many organic farmers feed their cattle grass instead of feed in their last five days of life to reduce the acidity in their stomachs in which E. coli bacteria can thrive, says Tedd Heilmann, general manager of Organic Prairie, Organic Valley’s meat processor.”

Many dairies are now offering nonorganic rBGH-free milk that is less expensive than organic. But, the reported, “An adult woman produces 253,000 times more estrogen every day than what is found in a 3-oz. serving of beef.”

Organic Processed Foods? Look at the label. Products with 95% or more organic ingredients may carry the USDA organic seal. A product that says, “Made with organic ingredients” needs to contain only 70% organic ingredients. But remember this: Any nutrients you gain from eating “organic” are outweighed by the fact that many of the packaged food contain more fat than their conventional counterparts. Bottom line? It’s still better to eat fresh food.

Here’s a look at what products, based on a shopper’s guide issued last fall, based on U.S. government data, that ranked pesticide levels, according to the

Foods with high levels of pesticides in non-organic sources – buy organic:
Apples, peaches, bell peppers, strawberries, imported grapes, spinach, lettuce, potatoes, carrots:

Foods with love levels of pesticides in non-organic sources – no need to buy organic (Unless you want to support organic farmers): Broccoli, bananas, frozen sweet peas, frozen corn, asparagus, avocados, onions.

Seafood: No USDA organic certification yet exists for seafood. Even seafood raised in the wild can contain mercury, PCBS and other contaminants.

But we’re not done yet, keep reading. The WSJ article sparked quite a few letters to the editor that may make you think twice about eating organic. A letter that appeared in the WSJ on Jan 29, from Lee M. Silver, Professor of Molecular Biology and Public Affairs, Princeton University, Princeton, N.J. ”Organic farmers are free to use many chemicals on their crops, including:

  • Pyrethrin (with the formula C21H28O3) and rotenone (C23H22O6), which is a potent neurotoxin long used to kill fish and recently linked to Parkinson’s disease. Bacillus thuringiensis solutions containing BT larval toxins
  • Sulfur and copper (both long-lasting soil contaminants) as fungicides.”
  • And the same day, Gregory D. Miller, Ph.D., F.A.C.N., Executive Vice President Science and Innovation, National Dairy Council, Rosemont, Ill. (Jan. 29, letter to WSJ)
    “I’ve dedicated my 20-year career to the study of dairy nutrition, and I can assure you that there is no scientific evidence that organic dairy products are safer or healthier than regular dairy products. All milk is tested regularly for antibiotics, and any milk that tests positive is disposed of and doesn’t get into the food supply. Additionally, the latest data released by the Food and Drug Administration shows that milk and milk products have been consistently found to be pesticide free. The safety of rBST has been affirmed by the leading U.S. health organizations and regulatory agencies from 50 countries around the world. It is also important to note that, according to the American Cancer Society and the FDA, there is no evidence linking milk from rbST-supplemented cows to an increased risk of cancer.”
    And again, on Feb, 3, 2007 a letter by Henry I. Miller, M.D., The Hoover Institution, Stanford, Calif., and a former official at the F.D.A. from 1979 to 1994. says, “Gene-spliced plant varieties, which make possible markedly decreased applications of chemical pesticides and permit a shift to less toxic and more environmentally friendly herbicides, aren’t permitted in organic farming. (As a result…) Many organically grown grains have significantly higher levels of dangerous fungal toxins and insect parts than gene-spliced varieties.”

    This topic is not closed — comments encouraged. Next post — how to wash pesticides off your fruits and vegetables.

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    4 comments to “Is Organic Food Healthier?”
    1. Good article, thanks. Time ran a cover story on buying local — something I think we need to support for our famers so that we don’t completely become slaves to Monsanto and other big corporations and we can help save heirloom plants.

    2. I started commenting then went off on a complete rant! So I’ll carry that over to my own blog as really, it isn’t polite to yell at the top of your voice in other people’s houses 🙂
      Suffice to say that I’m a great believer in supporting organic and Fair Trade food!

    3. Pingback: Organic Food - warning "Rant Alert!" « Relaxed Parents

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