In the world of nutrition, the debate over organic vs. non-organic rages on. Produce that used to be reserved only for the true ”health nut” is now available in almost every commercial grocery chain, sparking a national debate on what is healthy for consumers to eat. Although most of us aren’t seeking to pollute or bodies with pesticides or hammer them with hormones, buying organic can get expensive. Is the price of going organic worth the prize of your health?
First and foremost, it is important to understand what you are buying into. Following regulation of the Organic Foods Production Act , the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) created the National Organic Program (NOP) along with a National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to set and review the standards for the production, handling and processing of organically grown crops, livestock, and agricultural products in our country. Together, the USDA and NOP defined organic as a “labeling term that food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods [during which] synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used”, and created a label to stamp on the products that met 95% of those standards. Foods that are multi-ingredient foods may be marked accordingly, but foods that are not marked with the label below should be purchased with precaution.
But what about plain ol’, regular non-organic eats? How and why is food processed with synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering deemed “safe” for consumption by the USDA? Perhaps I didn’t dig deep enough, but I couldn’t find any of these definitions on the USDA website. From what I understand though, synthetic fertilizers they are fertilizers manufactured from chemicals in a lab, while irradiation is the process of killing bacteria through gamma rays, x-rays, and electron beams. Sewage sludge is defined by the Center for Food Safety as “a product of wastewater treatment…[that contain]…numerous known and unknown hazardous materials”, and genetic engineering is a method used to introduce new genes into plants and animals by moving genetic genes from one organism to another.
Luckily, you don’t have to side completely with organic or non-organic. The above terms are actually not as horrible as they sound (all food sold in stores is deemed safe for human consumption by the FDA, organic or not), and can be almost completely avoided with a few basic precautions and tools that don’t require breaking the bank at the market!
1. Always wash your produce correctly to remove any dirt or debris. You can use This FDA guide to washing an handling produce.
2. Invest in a produce brush and scrub any produce with a thick outer skin before serving.
3. Remove any bruises or bumps from produce before consuming. When in doubt, throw it out!
4. Check out your local farmers market! Studies like this one have found that organic produce purchased at farmers markets in Vermont to be much less pricy than the organic produce offered in their local grocery stores. The USDA even has a directory available online to help you locate one in your area!