Organic Foods: What You Need to Know

Organic Foods: What You Need to Know

Once upon a time, if you wanted to buy organic you had to venture off the beaten path to the health food store or some other, niche grocer. Those days are now over.

An American populace, better focused on health, the environment and the threat of dangerous chemicals, have pushed organic food into the mainstream. One stat says it all: in the last ten years, organic food sales have more than tripled within the US. These sales now account for a staggering 35 billion in consumer dollars per year. So what are the essential differences between organic foods and their far less expensive alternative?

The primary difference between conventional and organic farming lies in the use of fungicides and pesticides. Conventional farmers spray their crops with synthetic chemicals to guard against insects, molds, and disease. Organic farmers, on the other hand, use naturally occurring fungicides and pesticides. Organic farmers also employ alternative methods of crop security. They employ traps and encourage predators in order to manage pests; and carefully select, diversify and rotate their crops as a means of protecting against diseases.

The alternative practices organic farmers employ are intended to conserve natural resources, minimize pollution, and, perhaps most importantly, support human health.

When synthetic fungicides and pesticides are employed, as they are in conventional, non-organic farming, they remain on the produce we buy in the form of a surface residue. Many of these chemicals are carcinogenic.

The drawbacks of organic

A few are obvious—organic produce is more expensive, more rapidly perishable and more likely to contain pathogens than its non-organic counterpart.

Others are more obscure.

Many of us believe organic is synonymous with “no pesticides.”

Organic farmers, however, as mentioned earlier, do make use of fungicide and pesticide sprays. They just have to be natural.

For a farm to retain its “organic” status under the USDA, the pesticides and fungicides that farm employs cannot be synthetically generated.

The word “natural” has a habit of inspiring warm and fuzzy thoughts, but will not if you consider the long list of the world’s naturally occurring poisons. And while organic farmers aren’t spraying arsenic, lead, and mercury on your produce, the natural pesticides and fungicides they are using, like copper sulfate and pyrethrum, don’t seem so nice either. Research these yourself before you jump whole-heartedly on the expensive, organic bandwagon.

Know your labels

Here are some claims found on the labeling of organic products, and the USDA guidelines for making them:

  • “100 percent organic” — According to the USDA, to make this claim the product must, in fact, be 100% organic.
  • “Organic” — If the product labeling says simply “organic,” the product must be 95% organic.
  • Made with organic ingredients” — This claim can be made if 70% of the product’s ingredients are organic.
  • “All natural” — This designation has nothing to do with whether a product is organic or not.

Foods to buy organic, if you care

Every year The Environmental Working Group parses through the nation’s non-organic produce to find the fruits and vegetables with the highest and lowest pesticide contamination. If you are concerned with your pesticide intake and can’t afford to buy organic 100% of the time, let these lists guide your purchases:

  • Produce with high levels of pesticide residue: Apples, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, nectarines, peaches, potatoes, snap peas, spinach, strawberries, peppers, and kale, and collard greens
  • Produce with low levels of pesticide residue: asparagus, avocados, cabbage, cantaloupe, cauliflower, eggplant, grapefruit, kiwi, mangoes, onions, papayas, pineapples, sweet corn, peas, and sweet potatoes.


CATEGORIES: Healthy Food, Organic, Organic Food, Food Facts, Pesticides, Natural Food, Food Labels