Myth Busters: Organic vs Conventional



Have you ever gone to the supermarket, been confronted with a variety of brands and options and just froze from indecisiveness?! What milk or snacks should you buy for your family, what will be the most nutritious and beneficial, yet at the same time fit within your budget? Do the descriptions and nutritional facts seem overwhelming or simply null and void because you do not understand what each word means or what is inherently healthy and what is unhealthy?

With the influx of information, different types of labeling and certifying, and the many, many brands to choose from, we often walk around like “zombie” shoppers. One reason for this confusion that I have found – the excessive use of the word “organic.”

The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) defines organic as:

Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled “organic,” a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.

When you think of the word organic what comes to mind…nature, vegetables, and fruits? But in fact, we see “organic” everywhere. We are conditioned to think that organic is the healthier choice because advertisements make organic synonymous with words like “green”, “natural”, “nature”, “pure.” But it’s important to cut through the “words” on products, as these are just words, an advertisement, in most instances created by an ad company. Our trouble arises because we but too much trust in these terms. Their purpose is to entice us and get us to notice them.

The only formally recognized organic certified program in US, is USDA organic. USDA organic labeling is a difficult designation for a product to receive. Buying local, from farmers you get to know or trust can also provide you a similar level of safety. We trust the USDA label, as we should, but there is always some doubt that there could be an erosion of standards and manipulation of regulations.

What is more important than the stamp, is understanding the nutritional value of a product. We need more studies to show how great the difference is or is not between regular or conventional items and organic items. Organic is held to a higher standard.

Take apples for example. Typically, conventional foods are sprayed with pesticides to prevent insects from ruining them, or they may also be genetically modified, without us knowing….

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIH) defines pesticides as, “A pesticide is any substance used to kill, repel, or control certain forms of plant or animal life that are considered to be pests.” It takes powerful chemicals to do this, and we have yet to uncover all the repercussions to either human’s health or human surroundings. In the case of apples, according to the Environmental Working Group, one apple can have up to 48 different pesticides on it. Neither our children nor we want to be consuming pesticides when we bite into an apple.

As an example, the widely used herbicide Paraquat has been linked to liver, kidney, lung, and heart failure. Long-term exposure to this herbicide in farmers and farm workers has resulted in lung and eye damage. The NIH did a study that uncovered a link between Parkinsons in farm workers and Paraquat. These are just the “tip of the iceberg” and only one example of the harm pesticides and herbicides can cause, what about the other 47 on your apple? What length should we go to, to alter fruits and vegetables just so they can be kept on shelves for longer or sold for a cheaper price? Is our long-term health or that of our children an adequate trade off?

4 things you can do to be a “Myth Buster” and to Take a Stand:

1. As consumers and citizens, it is our right and our responsibility to lobby our government officials (at all levels) to require stricter labeling of products so that even items like bags of grapes have information on whether or not pesticides have been used.
2. We can ask for our tax dollars to go towards scientific research into the value of organic food in comparison to conventional food.
3. We can commit to purchasing brands we know practice moral and healthful farming.
4. We can make a healthy change, but at the same time it’s up to us to choose to DEMAND better understanding and healthy quality for all consumers.

Michelle Aboodi, a summer intern with ClimateMama, is a current student at New York University. Michelle’s role models include Bill McKibben, Martin Luther King Jr., and Erin Brockovich. When she is not working to preserve and help the environment, she enjoys writing, reading, yoga, dance, hiking, and cooking. We are excited to share Michelle’s perspective, ideas and youthful passion for making the world a better place with our Climate Mamas and Papas. We hope that you will share Michelle’s ideas and perspectives with the kids in your life too!

Thanks Michelle for a great article and for getting us “thinking.” Farming practices and what and how we raise our crops and our livestock can have a significant positive or negative impact on climate change. Stay tuned and check back as we look into this “more in depth” this summer. In the meantime, you may want to check out the Environmental Working Group’s Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce as well as some of their other consumer guides!


Climate Mama

Grocery store photo credit: via photopin cc

USDA photo credit: Tim Psych via photopin

Farmer photo credit: USDAgov via ccphotopin cc

Apple photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc

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