Organic Foods > Why Do Organics Matter?


Jean Weiss -- Editor, Delicious Living


In recognition of National Organics Month, our September issue focuses largely on topics surrounding organic foods. Most of the news is exciting. Several studies have verified what organic farmers, retailers and shoppers have always known: Organics contribute to healthier people and to a healthier planet.


Consequently, the new USDA national standard for organic certification couldn't come at a better time. Uniting the industry under a single certified-organic label will provide you, the consumer, with assurance that your choice is a smart one. You will know that when buying organics, you're giving yourself and your family toxin-free, healthy food.


We remain committed to providing the information you need to continue making educated wellness choices. With this same mission in mind, the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., researched produce items to determine which are more and less likely to carry high pesticide content.


The following produce items, with strawberries and bell peppers topping the list, are found to retain the most pesticide residue and therefore make the wisest organic-variety choices:


Strawberries Bell peppers
Spinach Cherries
Peaches Mexican cantaloupe
Celery Apples
Apricots Green beans
Imported grapes Cucumbers


While organic foods are always the best option in terms of avoiding toxic pesticides, preliminary studies also show they are higher in nutrient content. Should you be in a store that doesn't offer organic options for a particular type of produce, it's helpful to know which items tend to retain less pesticide residue and would be safer options than, say, strawberries, spinach or the other items listed above. These include: avocados, corn, onions, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, grapes (domestic only), bananas, plums, green onions, watermelon and broccoli.


While these conventional items may carry fewer toxins than other conventionally grown produce, their risk of containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) remains high. Corn and sweet potatoes are two of the crops most likely to be genetically modified. And unfortunately, to date there is still no legislation requiring that foods containing GMOs be labeled. Only organic certification ensures your foods are natural and free of genetic modification.


Between pesticide content and GMO risk, there is no question that organic foods are healthier for your body and the environment. When wondering if you should pay the extra for organic foods, consider the alternatives: What is the cost of good health? What is the cost of clean air, soil and water? The organic choice matters.


Organics Prove More Nutritious


Organic farming proponents have long suspected that organically grown foods contain higher levels of important vitamins and minerals as compared to conventionally farmed produce. Now research backs this claim (Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2001, vol. 7, no. 2).


For her doctoral dissertation at Baltimore's John's Hopkins University, Virginia Worthington, Ph.D., reviewed 41 studies comparing the levels of 35 vitamins and minerals in organically and conventionally grown produce. Organics rated higher in most nutrients measured and, as a bonus, contained 15 percent less of potentially harmful nitrates from nitrogen fertilizers. The greatest nutritional differences were found in magnesium (organics had 29 percent more), vitamin C (27 percent more), and iron (21 percent more).


Using the USDA recommendation of five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, Worthington calculated that organic-produce eaters would consume an average of 89 mg vitamin C daily compared with 70 mg for conventional-food eaters; 3.7 mg iron compared with 3.0 mg; and 80 mg magnesium compared with 68.6 mg. This suggests that going organic might make the difference between a nutrient-deficient diet and an adequate diet.


-- Marilyn Sterling

Organic Farming Yields Bounty And Taste


A six-year apple-farming study provides quantitative data showing organic farming methods to be superior to both conventional and integrated methods (Nature, 2001, vol. 410, pp. 927-930).


"As a scientist, I wanted to find out which of the three systems [organic, conventional or a combination of both, called integrated] is more sustainable," says John Reganold, co-author of the study, "meaning it must produce adequate food of high quality, be environmentally sound, conserve resources, be socially responsible and make a profit."


From 1994 to 1999, Reganold and his colleagues tracked soil quality, yield and crop quality, environmental impact, energy efficiency, and profitability for three apple production systems, using organic, conventional and integrated methods, in Washington state. Results showed that all three systems produced comparable yields; however, the organic and integrated systems showed higher soil quality and lower environmental impact, and the organic system produced sweeter apples, higher profit and greater energy efficiency.


"We see this as a wake-up call," says Reganold. "When you put all the factors together, organic [farming] is a slam-dunk winner, with integrated next. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to see that these are two systems that [farmers] might want to consider."


As critics note, the current financial premium afforded organic growers unfairly affects profitability; however, this government-sponsored benefit kicks in only after three years of applying organic techniques, making the transition a financial burden to small and midsize farmers. "The challenge facing policymakers is to incorporate the value of ecosystem processes into the traditional marketplace," the study concludes, "thereby supporting food producers in their attempts to employ both economically and environmentally sustainable policies."


To receive national organic certification, foods must meet the following stipulations:


  • Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) meaning gene transfer across species are prohibited.

  • Irradiation and the use of processed sewage sludge as fertilizer are prohibited.

  • Organic livestock must have access to pasture, organically grown feed and humane treatment; antibiotics and growth hormones
         are not permitted (sick animals are treated, but removed from the herd).

  • Synthetic pesticides and herbicides are not used. Organic farmers instead rely on a repertoire of practices including cover crops,
         crop rotation, beneficial insects, companion planting, and use of compost to create the healthy and fertile soil that results in
         hardy plants.

The land must be free of applied chemicals for three (3) years.


Products Ingredients


Shaving cream Stearic acid Anae Lecithin
Shampoo Egg, animal protein, ceramides, fatty acid
Conditioner Silk oil
Deodorant Quaternium (derivative of animal tallow)