Buying organic is more than just investing in your health. It’s investing in the health of our planet for generations to come. “Organic practices” keep the land healthy which in turns nourishes us with more vitamins and minerals.
The USDA standards for labeling foods as ‘organic’ are as follows:
• SAFE SOIL- Soil must be free of sewage sludge, lead salts, and potassium chloride, as well as several other substances, for at least three years prior to the first organic harvest.
• NO MODIFICATIONS- GMOs*, irradiation, and additives are prohibited.
• SEPARATE STORAGE- Handlers, food processors, and manufacturers must separate organic goods from non-organic and take steps to ensure organic foods do not come in contact with forbidden chemicals or substances.
The standards for meat, milk and eggs are:
• TIMING- Animals must be raised organically from the last third of gestation in livestock, or no later than the second day of life for poultry.
• ORGANIC FEED- Livestock feed products must be 100% organically grown.
• HORMONE & ANTIBIOTIC FREE- Sick animals must be treated, but if an animal has been treated with prohibited medications, it can not be labeled or sold as organic.
• OUTDOOR ACCESS- Including pastures for grazing animals. Each animal must have shade, shelter, fresh air, direct sunlight, and room to exercise appropriate for its species.
• NO COMMINGLING- Organic animal products must be separated from non-organic products. Organic animal products must not come into contact with prohibited chemicals or substances.
*GMOs- Genetically Modified Organisms are life forms that have been genetically engineered. Genetic Engineering is the process of taking genes from one strain of a plant, animal or virus and inserting them into another, with the goal of reproducing characteristics of the original species in the receiving species.
Three government agencies are involved in the approval process for GMOs, the USDA, EPA, and FDA. However, there are no mandated pre-market studies on them. As with pesticides and drugs, safety testing for GMOs is done by the companies that produce them, raising concerns about ethics and conflict of interest.
Top 10 most important Organic Buys
Some foods are more susceptible to contamination than others, and therefore are more important to buy organic. The following is a list of the ten most important foods to seek out in organic form, based on studies conducted by the EPA, EWG and FDA.
1. Strawberries- A study by the EWG found supermarket strawberries to be the most contaminated produce in the U.S.
2. Bell peppers- 38% of peppers from Mexico, which makes up 98% of peppers sold in the U.S., have two or more toxic pesticides present.
3. Green beans- 60 different pesticides are used on green beans, and 10% of those grown in Mexico have been exposed to illegal pesticides.
4. Grapes- Especially those that have been imported.
5. Spinach- Most lettuces and greens are best purchased organic.
6. Apples- 36 different pesticides were detected by the FDA.
7. Cantaloupe- Melons grown in the United States from May to Dec. are alright, but avoid those grown in Mexico.
8. Bananas- Costa Rica uses 35% of the country’s pesticides on banana crops.
9. Peaches- Thin skinned fruits are especially vulnerable to chemical infiltration.
10. Celery- High water content means that anything in the groundwater may be present here.
There are some foods out there that you can purchase without to much concern. While it is nice to know all of your food was grown in environmentally sound fashion, sometimes you must acquiesce to economy and practicality. Some foods that are pretty safe buys:
Avocados Sweet Potatoes Mango
Brussels sprouts Kiwi Broccoli
U.S. Grapes Asparagus Onions
Sweet Corn Cauliflower Pineapple
Plums Watermelon Papaya
There are a few other red flag foods that it would behoove you to purchase organic. While the foods mentioned earlier are ones that you should always, always, always buy organic, others to consider are:
• Rice- Water soluble pesticides can leach into groundwater, contaminating nearby rice paddies.
• Oats- In an FDA study conducted in 1994, illegal chemical residues were found in a years worth of Cheerios.
• Soybeans- Most soybeans in the U.S. are genetically modified. Appallingly, some plants have even been spliced with pesticides, meaning no matter how they are prepared, cooked, or treated you can never remove the pesticide.
Notes on Seafood
Awareness of the foods you should seek out in an ecologically friendly form extends beyond fruits and vegetables. Another important food category is seafood. Factors to consider when it comes to purchasing fish and shellfish are heavy metal and contaminant content, as well as resource sustainability. Mercury, a toxic heavy metal, interferes with development and should be acidulously avoided by pregnant women and children. The following fish have the highest levels of this toxin:
Swordfish Shark Tilefish
King Mackerel Blue Marlin Fresh Tuna
Sustainable, responsibly farmed and well managed wild resources are important for our environment and our bodies. Thankfully, consumer awareness is making these delicious options more available every day. There are many groups and agencies that monitor methods of capture and ecological effects of fishermen and companies that bring seafood to our markets. There are many websites with comprehensive lists of good, acceptable, and bad fish on the market. Here is a sample of that list:
GOOD FISH- BAD FISH-
Farmed- Wild Caviar
Catfish Chilean Sea Bass/Tooth fish
Abalone Atlantic Cod
Clams Atlantic Halibut
Oysters Orange Roughy
Rainbow trout Rock Cod
Sturgeon Salmon (farmed or Atlantic)
U.S. Tilapia Snapper
Crab- Wild Sturgeon
Dungeness Blue Fin Tuna
Alaskan Sablefish/black cod
Alaskan Wild Salmon
Oregon Pink Shrimp
White Sea Bass
Some heavily contaminated fish make it to market, and contain very high levels of mercury, PCBs, and pesticides. These pose a great risk to everyone’s health, but pregnant women, children, and those with compromised immune systems would be advised to stay away from these entirely! They include:
Blue fish American Eel Spotted Sea Trout
Wild Striped Bass Weakfish Blue Marlin
King Mackerel Swordfish Atlantic Croaker
If you would like to learn more about organic foods and ecologically sound, safe sea foods, there are some very informative websites out there. Some of them even have mercury calculators and quite extensive lists of sea foods that have been both approved and deplored by several ocean ecology groups.
Kidsorganics.com deliciousorganics.com heall.com
Taylorandfrancis.metapress mbayaq.org oceansalive.org
Live well, and have a happy tummy!