Thursday, April 14, 2011

Why I don’t buy Organic, Most of the Time

Whether it is due to my reluctance to follow the herd or a science-supported notion that old farming methods can’t feed our growing population, I don’t buy organic food. In fact, I tend to avoid it. I do admit, however, that I will buy it if it’s on sale, but it has to be cheaper than the non-organic food items. So what is my body of evidence, you may ask, for my food purchasing decisions?

Food Safety – Several federal agencies are working to make sure our food supply is safe from toxins, chemical residues and disease causing organisms. I took a look at one of the most recent FDA Total Diet Study analyses which are conducted each year on foods we commonly eat. Most every food had trace amounts of a number of chemicals. This data may shock many people. However, the EPA sets standards on what is considered an allowable level of a contaminant. All were well under those levels. And having learned how the EPA sets its standards, they are 10,000 to 100,000 times less than what causes any effect (ill or otherwise). Many studies have shown that organic foods have less pesticide residues than non-organic food, which is to be expected. Some organic food, however, has also been shown to have residues from pesticides that were not approved for use.

We also need to look at fertilizer methods. Plants need nutrients to grow, and they need a lot of them to grow well. Manure is used in many food production systems due to high nutrient content and availability. It is widely used in organic production since synthetic fertilizers are not allowed. If the manure is not managed properly, bacteria in the manure can contaminate the food. I have seen studies and cases where organic is as likely, and even more likely, to contain bacterial pathogens than conventionally-produced foods.

Same goes for livestock. If the animals are not being treated with antibiotics, they are more prone to have an infection. And all livestock are required to be antibiotic-free before they enter the food chain. So when it comes to fruits and vegetables, I believe I have the most control over the safety of the food. I wash it all. My family even teases me for washing things like apples, cucumbers, squash and similar foods with anti-bacterial hand soap, but I know it’s clean! If your rinse it well, you don’t taste soap. You can use a vinegar-water solution on produce that requires gentler handling.

As for meat, cook it to the recommended internal temperature!

Nutrition – Many studies show that fruits and vegetables grown with organic methods have higher levels of antioxidants and polyphenols. But, there is still a debate about the health benefits of these higher levels. It was interesting to learn what causes the increased levels of antioxidants: slower growth and stress from pests. One food toxicologist said that organic foods may be more likely to contain harmful, naturally-occurring toxins due to the same reason.

Regarding meat and dairy produced organically or conventionally, corn-fed or grass-fed, free-range or confined, I have seen study results go in all directions regarding nutrition, but most say there is no real difference. I tend to believe that the best meat, dairy and eggs come from animals fed a nutritionally-balanced diet from a variety of sources and are free from disease and environmental stress. Most all farmers, organic or not, strive to raise animals in this manner.

Environmental Impact – While using less synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are a noble endeavor when producing our food, it may not always be the best for our environment. Depending on the food type, organic production may require more tillage, which impacts soil loss and fuel use. Agriculture is constantly making strides in being able to produce more food with fewer inputs and less environmental impact. We are seeing substantial reduction in soil loss, fertilizer use and pesticide use in modern food production methods.

Economics – Organic is very labor intensive, so in general it costs more. Many families have trouble feeding their families and buying organic is just not an option. I don’t think a family living on a tight budget should feel bad for buying what is more affordable. If it is good enough for the majority of the population - as determined by the USDA and FDA – it is good enough for me.

I recently met Mary Courtney, mom and a grain and produce farmer from Shelbyville, Kentucky. She and her husband Shane grow produce on 30 acres, which according to her, would be unmanageable using organic methods. She also said she wants to be able to mitigate the risk of the environment, insects and weeds since her family’s income is dependent on the quantity and quality of the food they produce. She said some of her products could be considered organic, but she doesn’t use that label in order to be flexible. If products are needed to fertilize or control pests, she said only the absolute minimum is used. Those products are a large expense to her operation. By the way, she feeds her children the food produced on her farm.

I know another farmer who produced organic sweet corn for the grocery stores in his area. I asked why he quit, and he said it just didn’t make sense to grow a more expensive food that he did not feel was any better than the other sweet corn produced on his farm. Even when having an easy option to eat organic, his family was eating the non-organic sweet corn.

Before I close, I need to add that I ate an organic apple today. It was on sale for 88 cents per pound at my grocery store. Since there were a lot of them, my guess is that they were last year’s apples. It was mealy. I hate a mealy apple, organic or not.

I am a true believer in providing my family of four safe, healthy foods. I also believe that the food I provide should be produced in an environmentally sustainable method, which by my definition means using less resources and leaving less impact on the environment. In my mind, our farmers who use modern farming practices are providing me with the food that meets my criteria. I refuse to pay higher prices for food that may or may not be more healthful, humane, or environmentally friendly.

Learn more:

BestFoodFacts.org – Is organic food better for your health than non-organic food?

Food Safety News - http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2010/02/organic-meat-dairy-safer/

Where Your Food Comes From - http://www.wherefoodcomesfrom.com/Blog/

23 comments:

  1. Wow...excellent post! Very well-written and thoughtful with lots of practical examples. Loved it!

    Erica
    www.pnwrancher.com

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  2. Awesome post! Thanks for sharing this valuable information!!!

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  3. I love your definition of "sustainable"! It's a term that causes so much frustration because everyone seems to have a different definition! Thank you for an excellent post, it's great to hear from another mom who feels and shops the same way I do. Thank you to our farmers and ranchers for providing our wholesome, safe and affordable food sources.
    www.durrerce.blogspot.com

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  4. And thank you for reminding people to cook their meat to the correct internal temperature! This is my biggest pet peeve of reading food saftey articles.

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  5. Thank you for having common sense! Great post. I'm going to share it.

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  6. I also don't buy organic. When asked I say because 1.I know what they use for fertilizer, 2. it's over priced and 2. over hyped.

    Thanks for the post Jennifer.

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  7. I think there's place for both organic and conventional farmers like me. I can tell you from experience that farmers know we have to take care of the land if it, in turn, is going to take care of us. Biotech and precision ag are helping us make great strides not only in yield, but also in being environmentally friendly. Something I want to look at for my farm is cover crops. They can improve soil health and cut down on inputs.

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  8. Great post! I saw it on Twitter and it reminded me of my most recent one: http://j.mp/gXcV58. It takes a lot of communicating to combat organic's golden marketing campaign. The hype, like you said-is just that. Thanks for communicating for us. We need all the informed consumers we can get!!

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  9. you might want to do a little more research. Definitely some of the larger "organic" operations are not doing much in regards to a higher quality food, organic is just a label by the USDA... what you want is local and sustainably grown food that is NON GMO...http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5oixaFrppA&feature=share

    Joel Salatin of PolyFace Farms has some good information http://www.polyfacefarms.com/ here is also a radio interview with Joel http://www.financialsense.com/financial-sense-newshour/big-picture/2011/04/16/03/joel-salatin/a-workable-solution-to-soaring-food-prices-in-the-next-decade

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  10. Great post! Loved the common-sense approach you take with providing for your family. I agree wholeheartedly, organic is great for those that enjoy it and can afford it, or have access to it, but until we find a way to provide for all of the children in our country, everyone needs to work together. I will definitely recommend this blog to other friends! Thank you!

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  11. Excellent, Jennifer! These are exactly the reasons why we don't buy organic either - there's just no need to. I appreciate having the choice, as I'm sure organic enthusiasts do as well, but my choice is like yours: conventional is just fine - and in some cases even better - for our family. Thank you for sharing some good facts.

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  12. If you're so thankful for farmers... why are you buying food from grocery stores?

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  13. Like you, I'm totally comfortable with non-organic production. I work in ag research and know first-hand how hard researchers and producers work to give us a safe and affordable food supply to feed our growing population. Thanks for sharing!

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  14. Jennifer,
    Thank you for mentioning www.BestFoodFacts.org as a resource on food-focused information. We strive to connect consumers with credible and unbiased experts to address questions or concerns about today’s food. We feel that providing access to transparent and balanced information will help consumers, like you, make thoughtful decisions on the food that’s right for yourself and your families.
    Keep up the great posts!

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  15. Wow, How much did they(EPA/FDA/Monsanto) pay you miss Jennifer? Maybe we all can get in on the cut. lol. Nature need our help, right?

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  16. Who is responsible for testing of antibiotic residues in meat from livestock that is available at the grocery store? You said they are required to be free of antibiotics before they enter the food chain. How often are they tested and where at? Would you say all animals that enter the auction sale barn are free of antibiotic residues? I wonder if their are any violators out there?
    http://www.fsis.usda.gov/PDF/Residue_IPP.pdf

    Good thing they are ramping up the testing program, finally.

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  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  18. If you think all farmers treat their animals well, you are sadly mistaken! Have you visited a LARGE factory operation or are you relying on the picture postcard images they want you to see for your information? Have you seen the chickens stuffed in small cages their whole lives, forced to lay eggs in the same and never go outside? Cattle that live their lives in stalls being fed grain and animal scraps in troughs instead of grazing? Geese having food literally shoved down their throats to fatten them up? You obviously do not care about the animals treatment or the run-off into our groundwater from the chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Ever wonder why we need to have filtered water? There are two winerys in California, very close to each other, one organic ... one now ... the soil in the non-organic is pale, worn out, over-used. The organic farm has nice rich black dirt ... you can stand and see both of them and compare ... the difference is unbelievable even to the naked eye! Organic soil is full of life, earthworms and other beneficial insects ... non-organic soil is dead, needing to be boosted by fertilizers year after year ... and to trust what the FDA says is just foolish! They are one of the most unreliable sources for information in this country! How many drugs have they approved that are later found to be killing people? They're paid to approve those drugs ... by the pharmaceutical companies ... and I'm just as sure they're on the take for food also. There are hundreds of additives in our food that they say don't need to be listed on the labels ... we have no idea what we're eating. Do a little more research, but with open eyes. Too bad you let your pocketbook be your guide as to what you feed your kids!

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  19. Lora,

    First let me say that it is my absolute right to have my own opinion, and you yours. I am not telling you what to believe, but just sharing my viewpoint. I bring a unique perspective to the table as I work with farmers of all sizes on a daily basis. I visit their farms and see exactly what is done. Are ALL farmers doing the right thing? Probably not. There are some people out there that won't follow rules no matter what, but hopefully they will be found and stopped. You tell me to look at things with eyes wide open? Guess what, I consider myself an intelligent person who does not let anyone make decisions for me, and I am wary of all information that gets thrown my way. Everyone has an agenda. My agenda is that I want to be able to continue to feed my family, and it scares me to death to think that uneducated citizens can have such an impact on agriculture as it has already.

    Here's a little fact - the color of soil has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that chemicals were applied. It is due to type of soil, amount of organic matter, and proper management. It would be easy for me to think that you also have blinders on and jump to conclusions based on what you "see."

    Another known fact is that farmers are very regulated on chemical applications - the guy who wants a pretty green lawn is not. It amazes me that people want to complain about fertilizer and crop protection products which help to produce our food, but every other commercial on tv this spring has been trying to get people to buy the latest weed and bug killers for your lawn. And what about pharmaceuticals and household cleaners - think that stuff doesn't get in your water less easily than a farmer using just enough to preserve his/her harvest?

    Lastly, I do take extreme offense that you suggest I more worried about my pocketbook than my kids health. I have no problem affording high priced foods, but I'm not going to pay extra for anything that is "perceived" to be better.

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  20. The only person on this page that knows what they're talking about is Lora and rorykjames. Why would you want ANY additives/toxic chemicals in your food?? Food is not naturally meant to be pumped full of that stuff, and neither is your body. I'll gladly pay the extra small difference for less additives in my food.
    Also, subtly questioning a person's intelligence (Lora) on your blog who CLEARLY has looked into this matter...classy.
    0/10

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  23. It has no doubt organic foods are essential for every one in daily life. But many times it is impossible to purchase. There are two region behind this. One is insufficient supply of organic food and second factor is high cost.

    Noe farms are limited regarding our population. If the cultivation will increased the price will automatically reduced. Then every one able to purchase organic food at every time.

    ReplyDelete

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