Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Organic Produce

Let's face it.  Americans are in a recession, and we are having a hard enough time paying our necessary living expenses. Paying more for organic produce just seems like an unnecessary extravagance. 

Well, what some see as an extravagence, others see as a preventative health investment. 


Let's look at conventionally-grown produce.

Conventionally-grown produce has few standards when it comes to chemicals used to keep pests at bay, genetic modification (yes, even veggies are being subjected to genetic modification, which makes them capable of being bathed in chemicals without sustaining outward harm), water run-off from nearby animal farms (i.e., animal poop), and fertilizers.  That non-organic fruit you are feeding your kids with all the right intentions?  It has at least 67 chemicals on and in it.  "A kid's brain goes through extraordinary development, and if pesticides get into the brain, it can cause damage," said Dr. Philip Landrigan, chairman of the department of preventive medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.  These are pesticides- they are meant to KILL things.  Do we really want our kids (or ourselves) to be ingesting a chemical (let alone 67 of them) meant to kill living things?

The Environmental Working Group compiled a list of pesticides on popular produce:
(worst) Peaches – 100
Apples – 93
Sweet Bell Peppers – 83
Celery - 82
Nectarines – 81
Strawberries – 80
Cherries – 73
Kale – 69
Lettuce – 67
Grapes – Imported from outside U.S. – 66
Carrots – 63
Pears – 63
Collard Greens – 60
Spinach – 58
Potatoes – 56
Green Beans – 53
Summer Squash 53
Hot Peppers – 51
Cucumbers – 50
Raspberries – 46
Grapes – U.S. grown - 44
Plums – 44
Oranges – 44
Cauliflower – 39
Tangerines – 37
Mushrooms - 36
Bananas – 34
Winter Squash – 34
Cantaloupe – 33
Cranberries - 33
Honeydew Melon – 30
Grapefruit – 29
Sweet Potato – 29
Tomatoes – 29
Broccoli – 28
Watermelon – 26
Papaya – 20
Eggplant - 20
Cabbage – 17
Kiwi – 13
Sweet Peas (frozen) – 10
Asparagus – 10
Mango – 9
Pineapple – 7
Sweet Corn (frozen) – 2
Avocado – 1
Onions – 1

Exposure to pesticides is known to cause many health problems, such as birth defects, nerve damage, autoimmune diseases, cancer, reproductive problems, and other chronic health problems.

"Children are particularly vulnerable to pesticides because their bodies are immature and rapidly growing, and they do not have a fully developed immune system, liver or kidneys to help protect them from the damaging effects of many pesticides." (http://envirohealthhouston.org/hazards/pesticides.html)

The pesticide tests mentioned above were "conducted after the food had been power-washed by the USDA. Also, although some pesticides are found on the surface of foods, other pesticides may be taken up through the roots and into the plant and cannot be removed.  "We've found that washing doesn't do much," Rosenthal said. "Peeling can help, although you have to take into account that the pesticides are in the water, so they can be inside the fruit because of the soil.""  (via cnn.com)


"Organic agriculture embodies an ecological approach to farming that does not rely on or permit toxic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, genetically modified organisms, antibiotics, sewage sludge, or irradiation. Instead of using these harmful products and practices, organic agriculture utilizes techniques such as cover cropping, crop rotation, and composting to produce healthy soil, prevent pest and disease problems, and grow healthy food and fiber."  (http://www.beyondpesticides.org/organicfood/index.htm)

There are different standards an organic farmer must adhere to.

The USDA set forth the following standards:

  • Prohibit the use of irradiation, sewage sludge, or genetically modified organisms in organic production;

  • Reflect National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) recommendations concerning items on the national list of allowed synthetic and prohibited natural substances;

  • Prohibit antibiotics in organic meat and poultry; and

  • Require 100% organic feed for organic livestock.
 Here is a good factsheet on labeling requirements.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is that we need to think of eating well, exercising and the avoidance of chemicals (including pesticides) as an investment in our health.  The more we do now to stay healthy, the more we are preventing very costly diseases and problems in the future.  This is simple preventative medicine.

If money is really tight, and you can only afford to purchase some organic produce, here is a handy list of the "dirty dozen."


Jackie said...

The reason I stick to organic now is mainly because I am not sure what veggies are genetically modified and if they are organic I know they are not. Hopefully as more and more start buying organic the prices will come down.