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Reader’s Choice ’12: What Organic Food Is and Is Not

Nothing ages me faster than calling my niece “Dr. Whetstine.” 

Jena Whetstine & Jessica Brotherton

Jena Whetstine (right) with sister Jessica Whetstine Brotherton at Jessica’s wedding

Professor Jena Whetstine has her Ph.D. in chemistry. My collegiate career, on the other hand, did not include one hour of chemistry. Does psychology still count as a science? 

Our family is exceedingly proud of this accomplished young woman, all her siblings, and cousins. She is, and they are, beautiful on the inside and out with the easy-going, never-met-a-stranger warmth and sense of humor my husband’s family exudes.

Jena picked this post because as a chemist she found it “very entertaining.” Humor wasn’t exactly what I was going for, but you never know with chemists.

Jena’s Reader’s Choice is: 

What Organic Food Is and Is Not

bell peppers

click to read What Organic Food Is and Is Not

readers choice

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What Organic Food Is and Is Not

There’s a lot of confusion about organic food.

USDA-Organic Seal

USDA Organic Seal

As a mom and consumer, I know organic food garners a premium price. But I like to have choices. My family buys and eats food that looks and tastes good and that we can afford. That includes conventional, organic, biotech, heirloom, domestic, international, and farmer’s market fare.

So how is organic food defined? The USDA sets the standards for foods labeled USDA Organic through the National Organic Program, established by the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990.

Food that meets these standards can display the USDA Organic seal:

Organic crops. The USDA organic seal verifies that irradiation, sewage sludge, synthetic fertilizers, prohibited pesticides, and genetically modified organisms were not used.
 
Organic livestock. The USDA organic seal verifies that producers met animal health and welfare standards, did not use antibiotics or growth hormones, used 100% organic feed, and provided animals with access to the outdoors.
 
Organic multi-ingredient foods. The USDA organic seal verifies that the product has 95% or more certified organic content. If the label claims that it was made with specified organic ingredients, you can be sure that those specific ingredients are certified organic.
 

Seems straightforward. Why does confusion about organic food persist?

That brings us to what organic food is not:

bell peppers

peppers

Organic food is not more nutritious. This week’s Stanford University study concluded organic food is not healthier than conventional food. This isn’t really new information. Last year Scientific American reported 50 years of research comparisons have shown there are no health differences between organic and conventional food.

Organic food is not pesticide-free. Organic farms may use approved pesticides and fungicides derived from natural sources rather than synthetics to protect crops from insects and disease. Scientific American reported organic pesticides may be worse than those used in conventional farming. Organic food also tends to have more pathogens like E. coli and Salmonella than conventional food. It’s important to note the Stanford researchers found the pesticide levels of all food generally fell within the allowable safety limits.

Organic food is not better for the environment. According to Scientific American, organic farming requires more land to produce the same amount of food as conventional farming. If we were to switch to 100 percent organic farming today, we would have to clear another 20 percent of the ice-free land on earth to make up the difference in production.

Organic food is not necessarily local or fair-trade. Go Green Online reported the average organic food travels 1,200 miles before it reaches the consumer. And organic food may still be produced using illegal migrant workers receiving unfair wages in harsh working conditions.

My family buys and eats many different kinds of food; I’m not advocating one type of food over another. What I’m advocating is education and choice.

American blueberries

blueberries

We do ourselves a disservice when we pit organic against conventional or biotech, local against domestic or imported. There’s room at the table for all kinds of food to meet many different needs.

There’s freedom for us to learn and decide for ourselves what to eat.

You cause grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for people to use.
You allow them to produce food from the earth. Psalm 104:14 NLT

Blueberry Hill by Fats Domino. Wow.

 Do you buy organic, conventional, or both? Why?

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