Is It Worth It To ‘Go Organic’?

Eating organic all the time can get expensive. Here’s how to choose the foods that will make the biggest impact on your family’s health.

Guideposts Article By Leslie Kramer, New York, New York

Have you been buying organic foods more often when you go grocery shopping? You’re in good company.

According to the Hartman Group, a market research firm, 73 percent of consumers in the United States now use organic products at least occasionally.

Choosing food that’s better for your health and better for the environment seems like a no-brainer, except organic food costs more—as much as 50 percent more—and there isn’t always a wide selection at grocery chains, making it hard to find what you need without having to visit several stores.

So how can you make sure the money and time you spend on going organic is worth it?

What Organic Means
For fruits and vegetables to be labeled as organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), no pesticides, genetic modification, growth hormones, artificial fertilizers or irradiation can be used in their production.

usdaorganiclogoMost conventional farmers employ a variety of these methods. More than 1.2 billion pounds of pesticides were used in the U.S. in 2001, according to the latest Environmental Protection Agency data available.

For meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products to be labeled organic, they must come from animals that are given organically grown feed, no growth hormones or antibiotics, and are not confined 100 percent of the time, as they often are on conventional farms, says Steven Hoffman of the Organic Center, a non-profit group that furthers research on organic food. On organic farms, animals have some access to fresh open air and are able to graze.

Why Organic Produce Is Better for Us
Studies have linked the consumption of pesticides to health issues including cancer, birth defects and nervous system damage, says Sonya Lunder, senior analyst at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a not-for-profit research organization. However, the effects on health are not clear-cut. They depend on factors such as pesticide toxicity, level of exposure, a person’s age and genetic susceptibility, and exposure to other toxins.

With children, there’s more cause for concern. Their immune and organ systems aren’t fully developed, making them more vulnerable to pesticides. According to a report by the Organic Center, “the average child in America is exposed to five pesticides daily in their food and drinking water.” The good news is, ‘Switching to an organic diet for just five days virtually eliminates any sign of exposure to organophosphate insecticides.’

Other parts of the equation: Pesticides seep through the soil and get into our water and the ecosystem, says Barbara Haumann of the Organic Trade Association. Organic farming practices help reduce pollutants in groundwater and drinking water, and create richer soil that aids plant growth while reducing erosion.

There are compelling reasons to choose organic meat and dairy products. Conventionally raised cows are given recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) to boost growth and milk production.

The problem? These cows usually develop mastitis, an infection of the breast tissue. Traces of the antibiotics used to treat it can end up in the meat and milk of the animals. Ingesting antibiotics can cause allergic reactions in humans, Hoffman says. Even more alarming, antibiotic overuse enables bacteria to develop resistance.[...more]

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