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Organic Food – What Does It Mean?

Guest post by Gloria Vester

What does "organic" really mean?“There are 70 pesticides that are listed as known or probable carcinogens, based on animal testing. Of those 70, 44 are in use today, and 23 are used on our food.”

— Gina Solomon, specialist in internal medicine [2001]

“Just as there may be a time lag between [pollution] emissions and exposure, there may also be a time lag between exposure and [human or ecological] damages.”
US EPA, “Unfinished Business: A Comparative Assessment of Environmental Problems”

In my quest to rid my body of chemicals, and thereby illness, I am confounded to find that the majority of people I talk to have a very warped understanding of what organic really means. I am amazed that people think organic food is somehow vastly different in its content, that it is some fringe element with a mysterious and vaguely hippie connotation. The benefits of organic food are immense and the steps required to produce it and be certified organic are many. But it is still “real” food. I have had people look at me with fear in their eyes when I suggest consuming organic food. They are afraid it is not safe because it is not laden with chemicals or that organic dairy products are somehow raw, unpasteurized. To the contrary, organic food is much safer for humans, especially children whose nervous systems and brains are still developing and can be dramatically harmed by toxic chemicals in our food supply. It is also much safer for the planet which in turn makes our world a safer place to live.

In it’s simplest form organic means food grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) or ionizing radiation. Animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones. Here is the USDA definition from their website:

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

Production and handling standards address organic crop production, wild crop harvesting, organic livestock management, and processing and handling of organic agricultural products. Organic crops are raised without using most conventional pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers, or sewage sludge-based fertilizers. Animals raised on an organic operation must be fed organic feed and given access to the outdoors. They are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. The NOP regulations prohibit the use of genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, and sewage sludge in organic production and handling.

What does this mean to you, the consumer? It means that the organic food you buy is certified by the USDA to be grown according to strict standards that prohibit the use of toxic chemicals, in soil that is healthy and alive with nutrients that have not been destroyed by over use of chemical fertilizers, and that the plants themselves have not been genetically modified or irradiated. For meat and dairy products it means the animals themselves are not fed anything that contains harmful chemicals and have not been given growth hormones or antibiotics.

In general you will find that organic foods taste better because of the farming practices that are used by organic farmers and because there are no chemicals used to boost the production, change the color or taste, or hasten ripening. Organic food is debate-ably more nutritious because it is grown in soil that is healthy and alive and has not been depleted of all of its nutrients by over farming or the use of synthetic fertilizers. Organic farms use crop rotation and other methods of maintaining the health of the soil because a healthy soil produces healthy plants and healthy plants are less prone to disease and infestation. In addition, organic farming helps the planet by not contaminating the soil and ground water with harmful chemicals that are toxic to all of us. Crop run off is one of the largest causes of ground water contamination, causes algae blooms and fish kills in lakes and rivers, and eventually ends up in your drinking water.

Until consumers start demanding more organic foods at their local grocery stores the prices will remain higher and the selection limited. There is no reason why all food should not be grown organically. It is a matter of caring. Do you care enough about your health, the health of your children, and the health of the planet to demand that farmers stop using toxic chemicals on the food you feed your family?

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