We often associate the word organic with food products, but it can also be used to reference clothing, beauty care products and more. The key to reading labels, is understanding that organic food products (and claims) are regulated by the FDA. Other organic claims are not regulated; so, when buying anything organic that does not sport the USDA organic seal, make sure that you know and trust your supplier. Also check the ingredient list (if available) and see how many truly organic ingredients have been included.
There are many reasons to buy organic, the first and foremost being your families health (who wants to ingest chemicals, especially those that are known carcinogens or worse). Yet another reason to buy organic is the health of the planet. Pesticides can pollute soil and ground water, as well as, damage local flora and fauna. Genetically modified plants (GMO) can cross pollinate with non-GMO plants and also interfere with the development of other flora and fauna.
Many folks think that organic plants and foods are more expensive to grow and produce. In some ways this is true as it is difficult to mass produce or skimp on an organic product. However, keep in mind that although a yard of pesticide intensive organic cotton may be cheaper to produce up front than a yard of organic cotton the opportunity cost and ultimately the real cost of the pesticide intensive cotton will likely be much higher.
Some plants tend to require more pesticides than others and so are more pesticide intensive. Cotton and strawberries are two of my favorite examples. The cultivation of cotton is estimated to account for 25% of total pesticide use world wide and in the US alone, five of the most common cotton pesticides are known carcinogens. If you want to put your money where it counts do your best to encourage companies to use and support organic cotton!
Strawberries are believed to be one of the most pesticide intensive crops in the state of California and one of the most common pesticides used on strawberries (to kill soil borne disease) is Methyl bromide, which can be inhaled and according to the EPA is an acute toxin (or deadly chemical). Other pesticides used on strawberries are absorbed into the fruit, which is mostly water thus making it so that you cant just wash the strawberry off. This is evidenced by recent tests in which it was found that 90% of strawberries sold contained 36 different pesticides!
According to the Green Guide the following foods are organic must buys as they consistently show the highest levels of toxic (and or illegal) pesticide residues:
- green beans
Another point to keep in mind if you choose NOT to buy organic, is to only buy conventional produce that was grown in the US or Canada. Many South American countries from whom we import food have more lax standards and regulations when it comes to pesticide use. And, although they supposedly do not use certain banned pesticides on foods grown for sale in the US, random test on various foods, such as bananas and grapes, show otherwise!
And, a common myth of organic food is that it goes bad more quickly or that it is naturally damaged. This is just not true. If you buy organic produce that goes bad quickly, it simply means that it was on the shelf (or in storage) for too long before the store put it out for you to buy. In fact fresh picked organic produce often lasts longer than conventional produce, precisely because it usually travels a shorter distance from farm to table. And, most organic food ripens on the plant and is thus not treated with gas to encourage ripening. This is why your slightly green organic bananas often taste ripe, when the same green conventional banana would still taste unripe.
In addition, when buying locally grown produce, dont automatically pass it up simply because it does not carry an organic label. Many smaller farmers may choose not to use pesticides, but they dont pay for certification. Or in the case, for example, of an apple orchard, they may spray once in the spring before the fruit forms, but not again, this helps protect their fruit, but it is unlikely any residue will show up in or on your fruit.
One more reason to support organic, is that many organic farmers understand the interconnectedness of life and so they not only dont use pesticides, but they have other farming practices that also work to protect life on earth rather than defeat, tame or damage it. One of the best stories Ive heard of late was from a friend who is an organic farmer in Sebastopol, CA.
Paul has a friend who raises cattle and chickens, both free range, grass fed. He starts his cows out on a pasture until the grass is short. He then moves the cows to the next pasture, while leaving the old pasture to fallow (cow dung and all) for about a week (the time it takes fly eggs to hatch and grow into larvae). He then moves his chickens into the pasture. They scratch through the cow dung to eat some nice protein filled larvae, poop on the grass (chicken poo is an awesome fertilizer) and they eat a little grass (calcium, omega 3s and more). After he moves the chickens on to the next pasture the grass grows thick, green and tall making it perfect for the next round of cattle grazing. No pesticides, added fertilizers or feeds involved. Just mother nature and human cultivation working in harmony!