Buy Organic: Benefit Yourself and The Planet

In these days of rising food costs many are tempted to opt for foods that are less costly –  but this is short sighted, because long-term everyone will pay more for the following reasons:

1) Toxic chemicals pollute our air, water, soil and our bodies. . 99.5% of farm acres are at risk of exposure to noxious agricultural chemicals. Only 0.5% of crop and pastureland is in organic, according to the USDA. For the health of the American food consumers and the planet this needs to change.

2) Industrial agriculture doesn’t just affect the farmland and farm workers, it pollutes the environment downstream. Pesticide drift affects the non-farm communities with odorless and invisible poisons. Synthetic fertilizer drifting downstream is the main culprit for causing dead zones in delicate ocean environments, such as, the Gulf of Mexico, where its dead zone is now larger than 22,000 square kilometers, an area larger than New Jersey, according to Science Magazine, August 2002.

3) Future generations are being harmed. The toxic risk from pesticides begins, before a mother starts nursing her newborn. Studies show that infants in utero are exposed to hundreds of harmful chemicals. In fact, our nation is now reaping the results of four generations of exposure to agricultural and industrial chemicals, whose safety was based on adult tolerance level, not children’s. According to the National Academy of Science, “neurological and behavioral effects may result from low-level exposure to pesticides.” Numerous studies show that pesticides can adversely affect the nervous system, increase the risk of cancer, and decrease fertility.

4) Soil Loss caused by mono-cropping (annually, only growing one crop) and chemical fertilizer use has caused the loss of top soil estimated at a cost of $40 billion per year in the U.S. according to David Pimental of Cornell University. Add to this an equally disturbing loss of micronutrients and minerals in fruits and vegetables.

5) Two Million farms in the U. S. are using conventional farming methods, which are detrimental to the environment. There are only 10,000 certified organic producers.

6) Hasty and Poor Science in our foods are cloned foods, GMOs and rBGH. These technologies were rushed to market without sufficient studies to determine their safety. Eleven years ago, genetically modified food was not part of our food supply; today, 30% of our cropland is planted in GMOs.

Traditional farming practices used before the 20th century are generally recognized as organic. This was before the creation of pesticides, herbicides, irradiation, synthetic fertilizers and many other “progressive” farming inputs used to control pests, decrease farm labor and “supposedly” increase crop yields. In other words, in the past, farmers planted non-genetically altered seeds, rotated crops, pulled weeds, and put in long hours to bring in a bountiful harvest. Farm animals grazed on grass and lived off the land. The result was healthy organic food and much lower rates of heart disease, diabetes and cancer

Now, in the 21st Century, farmers are routinely spraying their crops with poison, planting genetically-altered seeds, feeding animals growth hormones, giving them unnatural grain diets and antibiotics. And now the current rates of heart disease, diabetes and cancer; along with Alzheimer’s. Parkinson’s and other diseases have escalated to levels never previously known in human history. Proponents of “modern” farming will say that the scale of production has changed in order to accommodate a worldwide population rapidly approaching ten billion, and that large scale farming demands chemical inputs to bring forth a sustainable, steady supply of affordable food. Nothing could be further from the truth! The reality is, old fashioned organic farming, is more sustainable. And the question is, whether modern chemical farming actually increases crop yields…this is subject to much scientific debate. In fact, some scientists claim that the continued insistence that chemical inputs increase crop yields is a myth.

But not subject to debate, and definitely not a myth, is the fact that any chemical designed to kill bugs, mold or fungus can seriously damage your health, too.

Here are some Questions and answers from the Organic Trade Association you should know:

*  What is organic? Organic refers to the way agricultural products – food and fiber – are grown and processed. Organic food production is based on a system of farming that maintains and replenishes soil fertility without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers. Organic foods are minimally processed without artificial ingredients, preservatives, or irradiation to maintain the integrity of the food.

*  Is there an official definition of “organic”? The following excerpt is from the definition of “organic” that the National Organic Standards Board adopted in April 1995. “Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony.”

*   What does “Certified Organic” mean? “Certified Organic” means the item has been grown according to strict uniform standards that are verified by independent state or private organizations. Certification includes inspections of farm fields and processing facilities, detailed record keeping, and periodic testing of the soil and water to ensure that growers and handlers are meeting the standards which have been set.

*    Can any type of agricultural product become certified organic? Yes, any agricultural product that meets third party or state certification requirements may be considered organic. Foods in order to be certified organic, have all been grown and processed according to organic standards and must maintain a high level of quality. Organic fiber products, too, have moved beyond t-shirts, and include bed and bath linens, tablecloths, napkins, cosmetic puffs, feminine hygiene products, and men’s, women’s and children’s clothing in a wide variety of styles.

*    Who regulates the certified organic claims? The federal government set standards for the production and certification of organic food in the Organic Food Production Act of 1990 (OFPA). The National Organic Standards Board was then established to develop guidelines and procedures to regulate all organic crops. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) during December 2000 unveiled detailed regulations to implement OFPA. These took effect on April 21, 2001, with an 18-month implementation period ending October 2002. At that time, any food labeled organic must meet these national organic standards. USDA’s National Organic Program oversees the program.

*    Are all organic products completely free of pesticide residue? Certified organic products have been grown and handled according to strict standards without toxic and persistent chemical inputs. However, organic crops are inadvertently exposed to agricultural chemicals that are now pervasive in rain and ground water due to their overuse during the past fifty years in North America and due to drift via wind and rain.

*    Do organic farmers ever use pesticides? Prevention is the organic farmer’s primary strategy for disease, weed, and insect control, By building healthy soils, organic farmers find that healthy plants are better able to resist disease and insects. Organic producers often select species that are well adapted for the climate and therefore resist disease and pests. When pest populations get out of balance, growers will try various options like insect predators, mating disruption, traps and barriers. If these fail, permission may be granted by the certifier to apply botanical or other non-persistent pest controls under restricted conditions. Botanicals are derived from plants and are broken down quickly by oxygen and sunlight.

*  How will purchasing organic products help keep our water clean? Conventional agricultural methods can cause water contamination. Beginning in May 1995, a network of environmental organizations, including the Environmental Working Group, began testing tap water for herbicides in cities across the United States’ Corn Belt, and in Louisiana and Maryland. The results revealed widespread contamination of tap water with many different pesticides at levels that present serious health risks. In some cities, herbicides in tap water exceed federal lifetime health standards for weeks or months at a time. The organic farmer’s elimination of polluting chemicals and nitrogen leaching, in combination with soil building, works to prevent contamination, and protects and conserves water resources.

*    Is organic food better for you? There is mounting evidence at this time to suggest that organically produced foods may be more nutritious. Furthermore, organic foods and fiber are spared the application of toxic and persistent insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilizers. Many EPA-approved pesticides were registered long before extensive research linked these chemicals to cancer and other diseases. In the long run, organic farming techniques provide a safer, more sustainable environment for everyone.

*    Why does organic food sometime cost more? Prices for organic foods reflect many of the same costs as conventional items in terms of growing, harvesting, transportation and storage. Organically produced foods must meet stricter regulations governing all of these steps, so the process is often more labor-and management-intensive, and farming tends to be on a smaller scale. There is also mounting evidence that if all the indirect costs of conventional food production – cleanup of polluted water, replacement of eroded soils, costs of health care for farmers and their workers – were factored into the price of food , organic foods would cost the same or, more likely, be cheaper.

*    Isn’t organic food just a fad? U.S. sales of organic food and beverages have grown from $1 billion in 1990 to an estimated $20 billion in 2007. The market for these goods is projected to reach nearly $23.6 billion in 2008, and grow an average of 18% each year from 2007-2010. The adoption of national standards for certification is expected to open up new markets for U.S. organic producers. Internationally, organic sales continue to grow well.

Buying organic is smart. For sure there are certain fruits and vegetables that are considered the “Dirty Dozen” and should only be used, if they are organically grown:

1) Apples

2) Blueberries

3) Celery

4) Cherries

5) Collard Greens/kale

6) Grapes

7) Nectarines

8) Peaches

9) Peppers, Red and Green

10) Potatoes

11) Spinach

12) Strawberries

Safer Fruits and Vegetables:

1) Asparagus

2) Avocado

3) Bananas

4) Broccoli

5) Cabbage

6) Kiwi

7) Mango

8) Onions

9) Pineapple

10) Yams

Systemic feeding of melons, whereby the plants take a great deal of water into their fruit through their roots makes it necessary to add melons to the above list of organic only.

Buying certified organic, particularly, the above “Dirty Dozen”, plus meat and poultry which could be loaded with toxins – would be very wise. Nothing is more important than good health and we need to be aware that Pesticides are Poison, Irradiation destroys a food‘s value and chemical fertilizers destroy the soil…along with GMOs, toxic sludge, etc. that are being used in raising food crops and farm animals.

Is organic food really worth the extra cost? In my opinion yes, because I take a proactive approach to avoid getting sick. There are few things as costly as medical care. When you balance the cost of medical care into the formula…organic food is far less costly. The soil in which organic food has been raised has had organic material added to enrich it, while conventional soil has only N-nitrogen, P-phosphorus and K-potassium added. Organic has more nutrients. There are major deficiencies in the foods that are grown conventionally. It is no wonder that so many people are unhealthy. Americans spend more on medical care than any other country.

In addition, organic food has more flavor. Strawberries have a sweeter taste, when raised in accordance with nature. Researchers at Washington State University proved this in lab test trials. Plus new research verifies that some organic produce is lower in nitrites and higher in antioxidants than conventional food.

Farmers Markets are springing up all over the country, so search for one near you. Whole Foods and Trader Joes also carry organic produce – and I found their stores in many states when my son and I drove East in 2006. Where there’s a will; there’s a way. You will be promoting biodiversity, when you buy organic. If you visited an organic farm you would notice: a buzz of animal, bird and insect activity, You would become aware that these organic oases are attracting bees, beneficial insects, birds, hawks and native plants. Organic farmers are working with nature, instead of against it. You are an important part of this, because with your support the organic movement will grow stronger. Hopefully one day organic will be the norm. and this will benefit all food consumers and the planet.

Healthfully Yours,

Barbara Charis

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