Organic Foods are Mainstream

What does organic mean? Why does organic cost more? Is organic better for my health? These questions are becoming more common now that "organics" have hit the mainstream supermarkets, delis, and "fast food" chains. Organic foods no longer solely exist in health-food stores.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), organic agricultural products like fruits, vegetables, and grains must be grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, radiation, or bioengineering. Organic meats, poultry, eggs, and dairy products are manufactured from livestock that are not fed or injected with antibiotics or growth hormones, live in natural living conditions appropriate for their species, and are fed only organic feed.

October 2002 was the rollout of the new national standards for organics. To receive the USDA Organic Seal, a product's label must contain 95-100% organic ingredients. Labels that state 100% Organic contain only organic ingredients, whereas, labels stating Organic contain at least 95% organic ingredients. "Made with organic ingredients" are food products containing at least 70% organic ingredients. If the product is made with less than 70% organic ingredients, these ingredient may be listed on the side of the package, but "organic" claims may not be on the front of the package. When making these claims, not only must the ingredients be certified organic but all processing and handling must also follow organic protocols.

The checkbook is often a driving factor when making food purchases. Costs of organic items vary from pennies above to double a conventional item's typical price. This price difference is a result of increased levels of labor and management required to comply with organic certifications mandated by the USDA. Keep your refrigerator stocked and your pocket full by purchasing organics in bulk and from your local farmers market.

Twelve produce items nick-named the "Dirty Dozen" have been shown to contain significantly higher levels of pesticide residues than other produce items even after thorough washing. Pesticides may have harmful effects on children's developing bodies. The "Dirty Dozen" foods include: apples, cherries, grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, raspberries, strawberries, bell peppers, celery, potatoes, and spinach. Conventional meat, poultry, and dairy products have been linked to increased bacterial resistance in humans. Organic foods are shown to have higher levels of phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are linked to many health benefits ranging from battling the common cold to improving cardiovascular health.

Organic foods have made their way into the mainstream food markets and are here to stay. A survey conducted in August 2005 for Whole Foods Market found 65 percent of Americans saying they had tried organic foods and beverages. This is up from 54 percent in similar surveys conducted in 2003 and 2004. As science reveals more about the health benefits of organics, the demand for these foods will increase, and the prices at food markets will likely go down. In the meantime, when you find yourself with a few extra pennies for food shopping, consider using the change to purchase organic produce from the "Dirty Dozen" list.

Reasons to Buy Organic...

  • Organic farming practices do not contaminate our water supply.
  • Organic foods have higher levels of some nutrients.
  • Organic farming methods help prevent soil erosion.
  • Animals are treated more humanely under organic conditions.
  • Organic farmers help cultivate nutrient rich soil.
  • Organic farming practices are better for the health of farmers and their families.
  • Buying organic supports small family farms across the country.
  • Organic farming promotes biodiversity.

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