In a perfect world, chemicals would not be needed to produce any foods, all of which would be made in sustainable conditions and from all-natural ingredients. But even the most eco-conscious foodie routinely faces difficult decisions at the grocery store.
The Organic Trade Association says organic food is the fastest-growing sector of the American food industry, and organic food now accounts for more than 5 percent of total food sales. While many people understand the benefits to consuming organic produce, such foods tend to cost more, compromising shoppers’ budgets as a result. Making smart choices and getting the facts about organic food can help consumers make informed decisions.
According to the food and health resource the Environmental Working Group, certain fruits and vegetables are more likely to feature residual pesticides than others. They dub these foods the ‘Dirty Dozen,’ which include strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes, and sweet bell peppers. Shoppers who cannot afford strictly organic foods can opt for non-organic items that are less likely to contain residual pesticides.
Many people are concerned about milk, meat and poultry treated with antibiotics. Organic foods are antibiotic-free. The Food and Drug Administration has strict guidelines in place to phase out the use of antibiotics in food animals to enhance growth or improve feed efficiency. They’re also requiring farmers to select strains of microbials that are less medically important to humans who would need them to treat disease. This means that conventional milk, meat and poultry may contain less antibiotics than consumers know.
Also, according to the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association, poultry are not given growth hormones, so there’s little need to pay more for hormone-free.
To be ‘organic,’ foods produced and sold in the United States and Canada must be shown to conserve natural resources and be devoid of GMOs, among other requirements. However, USDA organic certification allows for natural substances, such as pheromones, vaccines for animals and a limited number of natural pesticides. Also, a 2011 survey by the USDA showed 39 percent of 571 organic samples were found to have pesticide residues, but well below tolerance levels set by the EPA. Therefore, pesticide-free and organic are not exclusive.
Organic foods are seen as a healthy alternative to foods that do not fall into this category. While there are many positive reasons to go organic, including conventional foods in one’s diet is not necessarily unhealthy.