Organic farming has become popular in the past few years. Due to its increasing demand, many organic food products are now being sold in the market today. In Europe, the European Commission has actively introduced organic farming to food producers and consumers, to increase awareness of organic vegetables and fruits available as resources. Why are organic vegetables and fruits promoted by government agencies and non-government organizations alike? What are its benefits? Do you know where to source organic vegetables and fresh fruits? Find out below.
Why Choose Organic Food?
Everything that we eat and drink has an impact on our health and the environment. Food safety has been an issue in the industry for a long time. Due to chemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers used in crops, long-term health impacts have been observed.
Rachel Carson, author of the best-selling book, Silent Spring, first raised the awareness of the harmful effect of DDT to humans, animals and the environment in 1962. Carson spent almost six years gathering evidence from private researches and federal science before writing the controversial book.
Organic farming produces foods that are grown without modifications, enhancements, or application of synthetic chemicals. Organic vegetables and fruits must be grown in a clean soil without any application of pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides. In some cases, organic weed killer may be used. Organic produce is not genetically modified. It is grown the way Mother Nature intended it to grow.
Organic Farming Benefits
Benefits to Human Health
Organic food is often fresh from local farms. They do not contain any pesticides and come without preservatives; therefore they do not only taste better but are also safer for our health.
A study was conducted by UC Berkeley School of Public Health, the National Center for Environmental Health, and the Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas. It concluded that there is an adverse effect on the mental development of children 24 months of age due to exposure to the common organophosphate pesticides. The study reported that pesticides may lead to a pervasive developmental disorder.
There is also documented evidence of pesticide-induced cancer. According to Beyond Pesticides, 19 out of 30 lawn pesticides and 28 out of 40 school pesticides are linked to cancer. Some of the known pesticide-induced cancers include bone cancer, bladder cancer, brain cancer, breast cancer, cervical cancer, colorectal cancer, eye cancer gallbladder cancer, kidney, laryngeal, leukemia, lip cancer, liver tumor, lung cancer, lymphoma, melanoma, mouth cancer, multiple myeloma, neuroblastoma, esophageal cancer, ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, sinonasal cancer, soft tissue sarcoma, stomach cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid cancer and uterine cancer.
Jennifer Lang, author of the best-selling novel, The Whistleblower’s Confession , was inspired to write the book because of her mother, who had cancer. Due to her thorough investigation and research, she had every reason to believe that her mother’s illness was linked to genetically modified foods. Although Jennifer uses fictional characters in the book, the story is parallel to her mother’s condition and her own experience in investigating GM foods.
Eating pesticide-free, organic vegetables, and fruits, lowers the risk of developing cancer and other disorders, especially for children who are more prone to absorb greater amounts of pesticides because of their larger skin area compared to adults (cutaneous toxicity).
30 Most Common Pesticides Found in Food
|Pesticide||Reported Occurrences||Type||Used On||Class||Toxicity||Legal Status|
|1||Chlormequat||443||plant growth regulator||bran, bread, flour, wheat||Quaternary Ammonium Compound||No toxicity listed||Allowed|
|2||Imazalil||274||fungicide||Cucumbers, bananas, grapefruit, lemons, oranges||Azole||Acute toxicity, PAN bad actor chemical, developmental or reproductive toxin||Allowed|
|3||Carbendazim||256||breakdown product, fungicide||apples, oranges, pears||Benzimidazole||Slight acute toxicity, possible carcinogen, suspected endocrine disruptor||Allowed|
|4||Thiabendazole||249||fungicide||apples, bananas, grapefruit, lemons, mangoes, oranges, peas, beans, potatoes||Benzimidazole||PAN bad actor chemical, slight acute toxicity, developmental or reproductive toxin||Allowed|
|5||Dithiocarbamates||238||fungicides||baby leaf salad, lettuce, pears, apples,||Types of dithiocarbamates include: Metam sodium, Pyrrolidine dithiocarbamate and Sodium diethyldithiocarbamate||moderately toxic, possible carcinogen, potential endocrine disruptor||Banned use in the UK|
|6||Iprodione||238||fungicide||baby leaf salad, cherries, grapes, pears, plums||Dicarboximide||PAN bad actor chemical, slight acute toxicity, carcinogen, potential ground water contaminant, suspected endocrine disruptor||Allowed|
|7||Chlorpyrifos||191||insecticide, nematicide||apples, grapefruit, grapes, oranges, pears||Organophosphorus||PAN bad actor chemical, moderate acute toxicity, cholinesterase inhibitor, suspected endocrine disruptor||Allowed|
|8||Captan||186||fungicide||apples, grapes, pears||Thiophthalimide||PAN bad actor chemical, acute toxicity, carcinogen||Allowed|
|9||Procymidone||144||fungicide||aubergines, grapes, lettuce, pears||Dicarboximide||PAN bad actor chemical, suspected endocrine disruptor||Banned use in the UK|
|10||Tolylfluanid||137||fungicide, insecticide||pears||Sulfamide||PAN bad actor chemical, carcinogen||Banned use in the UK|
|11||Glyphosate||126||herbicide||bran, bread, soya mince||Phosphonoglycine||Slight acute toxicity, potential ground water contaminent||Allowed|
|12||Diphenylamine||113||fungicide, insecticide, plant growth regulator||apples, pears||Amine||Moderate acute toxicity||Allowed|
|13||DDT||98||insecticide, breakdown product||butter, lamb, oily fish, sea bass, sea bream||Organochlorine||PAN bad actor chemical, moderate acute toxicity, suspected endocrine disruptor||Banned use in the UK and export ban|
|14||Pirimiphos-methyl||98||insecticide||bran, bread||Organophosphorus||PAN bad actor chemical, slight acute toxicity, Cholinesterase inhibitor||Allowed|
|15||Azinphos-methyl||92||insecticide||apples, pears||Organophosphorus||PAN bad actor chemical, actue toxicity, Cholinesterase inhibitor, potential ground water contaminant||Ban as plant protection product|
|16||Imidacloprid||88||insecticide||aubergines, cherries, lettuce||Neonicotinoid||Moderate acute toxicity, potential ground water contaminant||Allowed|
|17||Prochloraz||84||fungicide||mangoes, yams||Azole||Slight acute toxicity, suspected endocrine inhibitor||Allowed|
|18||Cyprodinil||76||fungicide||grapes||Primidine||Slight acute toxicity, potential ground water contaminent||Allowed|
|19||Fenhexamid||71||fungicide||grapes||Anilide||Slight acute toxicity, potential ground water contaminent||Allowed|
|20||Chlorpropham||66||Herbicide, plant growth regulator||potatoes||Carbamate||Slight actue toxicity||Allowed|
|21||Dicofol||66||insecticide||lemons, tea||Organochlorine||PAN bad actor chemical, acute toxicity, possible carcinogen, suspected endocrine disruptor||Containg less than 78%p,p*-Dicofol ot more than 1 g/kg of DDT are banned|
|22||2-phenylphenol||64||biocide||grapefruit, lemons, oranges||Chlorinated phenol||irritation and burns of eyes and skin||Allowed|
|23||Maleic hydrazide||55||plant growth regulator||onions, potatoes||Unclassified||Slight acute toxicity||Ban as protection plant, severe restrictions on other uses|
|52||herbicide, plant growth regulator||grapefruit, lemons, oranges||Chlorophenoxy acid or ester||Moderate acute toxicity, possible carcinogen, potential ground water contaminant, suspected endocrine disruptor||Banned use in the UK|
|25||Cypermethrin||50||insecticide||lettuce, spinach, yard beans||Pyrethroid||Possible carcinogen, suspected endocrine disruptor||Restricted use pesticide|
|26||Azoxystrobin||48||fungicide||grapes, lettuce||Strobin||Potential ground water contaminant||Allowed|
|27||Fludioxonil||43||fungicide||grapes||Phenylpyrrole||Slight acute toxicity, potential ground water contaminent||Allowed|
|28||Folpet||41||fungicide||lettuce, pears, barley, wheat||Thiophthalimide||PAN bad actor chemical, carcinogen||Banned use in the UK|
|29||Mepiquat||39||plant growth regulator||bran||Quaternary Ammonium Compound||Slight acute toxicity||Allowed|
|30||Carbaryl||38||insecticide, nematicide, plant groth regulator||grapes, pears||N-Methyl Carbamate||PAN bad actor chemical, moderate acute toxicity, Carcinogen, Cholinesterase inhibitor, potential ground water contaminant, suspected endocrine disruptor||Banned use in the UK|
(Based on all data published by the Pesticide Residues Committee, 2000-2008 and analyzed for the most commonly occurring pesticide residues)
Benefits to the Environment
Organic farming uses mixed planting as a way to ward off pests naturally. Field margins and hedges are maintained; therefore, natural habitats for wildlife are maintained.
Organic farming minimizes water pollution because water runoff from organic farms does not contain pesticides or other harmful synthetic chemicals that may mix with underground water. Both soil and water are free from any contamination caused by synthetic chemicals. It maintains the biodiversity in a certain area since animals are free from accidentally consuming pesticides, which can cause them to die and produce an imbalance in the ecosystem.
Did you know that organic farming also minimizes soil erosion? Organic farming does not destroy all vegetation. For this reason, the topmost fertile soil layer is maintained and the wind cannot blow it away easily.
Locally grown organic fruits are not only fresher. They are also more beneficial to the environment because they do not need to be transported far. Carbon emission from transportation is greatly reduced.
GMO vs. Non-GMO
Discussing organic farming always leads to talking about genetically modified foods. Organic activists lobby against genetically modified organisms mainly because of their pesticide use. Aside from a number of synthetic chemicals, GM foods are also criticized because of their carbon footprints and the amount of land used in agriculture. However, are GMOs all bad as organic activists claim to be? Let’s see.
One of the reasons for creating genetically engineered food is to increase crop production by increasing the plant’s resistance to pests and diseases. Genetic engineering creates modified crops and produce by combining plant and animal genes with bacteria and viruses. This definitely does not occur naturally through organic crossbreeding.
GMO supporters see genetic engineering as an improvement of traditional plant breeding. Food shortage is also one reason cited by GMO supporters. They believe that genetically modified crops and produce are the answer to increasing yield, for crops and produce to resist drought, or to increase the nutrient content of the crop or produce.
Most countries consider GM foods as unhealthy as they are thought to bring health risks, allergies, and malignancies to consumers. According to The Organic and Non-GMO Report, several document findings on health dangers of GM foods were found.
For instance, Monsanto’s GM corn was fed to rats for the experiment. In the long run, the rats developed kidney and liver damage, pituitary gland abnormalities, and even premature deaths. The study was republished in the Environmental Sciences Europe. After it was retracted from its initial publication in the Food and Chemical Toxicology journal due to pressure from pro-GMO groups.
It also caused damaged organs, alterations in the blood biochemistry, damage to the intestines and potential effects in male fertility in mice. Monsanto’s GM corn was also fed to pigs and the results also showed severe inflammation of the stomach and heavier uteri in female pigs.
What is more bothering though is a study conducted in Canada wherein pregnant women were tested and were found to have significant levels of Cry1Ab, a Bt corn protein in their blood. The study proved that Bt. Toxin does not break down during digestion as claimed by GMO producers.
Aside from health risks, GM crops and produce also have environmental risks. For instance, more GM crops today are tolerant to herbicides. When used with glyphosate herbicide, it produces herbicide-resistant weeds, which is now a widespread problem in the US.
Another environmental risk factor is the contamination of non-GMO and GMO crops and produce. Migratory birds can potentially carry the seeds and butterflies can possibly cross-pollinate the flowers, thereby, causing the contamination. In addition, the insecticide-producing GMO crops and produce can also harm the helpful insects, causing a decrease in their population.
How Healthy Is Organic Produce?
Organic food has always been marketed as healthier than conventional food. However, it may not always be the case. According to a study conducted by Dr. Crystal Smith-Spangler, MD, MS together with Stanford Center for Health Policy senior affiliate, Bravata, there is no clear evidence that organically grown foods contain a significantly higher amount of nutrients than conventionally grown foods. Vitamin content is more or less the same between organic and conventional foods. However, organic food contains more amounts of phosphorus compared to conventional ones.
Organic food, however, contains less amount of pesticide compared to conventional food, but it does not mean that organic food is 100 percent free of pesticide.
Be wary of desserts or baked goods made with organic ingredients. Although they are made from healthy ingredients, they are not healthy as a whole as they can be high in sugar, fat, salt or calorie content.
Organic canned and processed foods are not healthy either. For instance, canned fruits may contain BPA, which is an endocrine disrupter, thereby, throwing the normal process of the endocrine system off-balance. The canning process, which involves subjecting the food to high heat temperatures, also destroys antioxidants, vitamins and enzymes essential for digestions. Eating canned or processed fruits and vegetables defeat the purpose of eating them in the first place as they practically lose most of their nutrient content.
Is Organic Produce Really Pesticide-Free?
No. Organic farming does use pesticides. However, the pesticides used are regulated, and is under a special list provided by USDA. Some of the pesticides are natural and are considered organic and harmless to human health and the environment. Such as vitamin B, mulch and dairy cultures. Among the most popular organic pesticides include Bacillus thuringiensis commonly known as Bt, Spinosad from soil bacteria, kaolin clay, and lime sulfur.
Surprisingly there are also synthetic pesticides allowed by the USDA. However, these substances are not allowed to contaminate crops, soil, and water. Among those allowed by the USDA are alcohols, chlorine materials, copper sulfate, hydrogen peroxide, ozone gas, peracetic acid, soap-based algicide/demossers, and sodium carbonate peroxy hydrate.
And then there are exceptional cases. Like, for example, organic farming for perennial planting stock of strawberries. They continually use the banned substance methyl bromide. The substance is injected into the ground where strawberries are planted and managed organically. This is to sterilize the soil, preventing any unwanted pathogens that may affect the growth of strawberries. It also ensures that strawberries thrive and produce fruits all year round.
Certifications and Labels on Organic Food Products
The US Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program regulates organic labeling. Only those that contain 95 to 100 percent organic ingredients bear the USDA Organic seal. Organic farmers and other businesses also apply for organic certification in the USDA. Once they are certified organic, they can sell their produce at premium prices, access local, regional and international markets, and apply for additional funding or technical assistance from the agency.
The FDA also inspects imported produce for pesticide residues. FDA inspectors test samples for residues. Once a sample is found to exceed the set tolerance, it will not be permitted to enter the country.
The FDA also conducts market-based surveys nationwide every year to determine the pesticide residue level found in domestic produce. The results are monitored for five consecutive years for those containing illegal residues. This is to ensure that residues in food are well controlled and below the set tolerance level.
You have to have it. It’s not a luxury these days. People really want and ask for and demand the organic certification. The actual certification on the package is a requirement, but it is also advertising, saying ‘our product is organic certified, so you know what you’re getting is good, and it’s tested
– Curtis Johnson, Gen. Manager, Woodstock Farms Manufacturing on having the organic seal on a product
If you are buying fresh fruits and vegetables, always look for the USDA Organic seal. In Canada, look for products with “Canada Organic, Biologique Canada” label. In the UK, there are several approved organic control bodies. Look for the logos of Organic Farmers and Growers Ltd, Organic Food Federation, Soil Association Certification Ltd, Biodynamic Agricultural Association, Irish Organic Farmers, and Growers Association, Organic Trust Limited, Quality Welsh Food Certification Ltd, Global Trust Certification Ltd and OF&G (Scotland) Ltd.
For a copy of the US – EU Organic Equivalency Arrangement, you can visit this USDA Trade Arrangements page.
This means that the produce is free from pesticides, fertilizer, and genetic modification and the produce is grown under the organic standards and practices set by the agency. There are, however, exemptions to the rule.
Small farms with $5,000 and below gross income from organic sales can label their products as organic even though they do not have USDA organic certification. For instance, those who are selling in the farmer’s market may not have the USDA organic seal. In addition, using the organic label is only voluntary. There may be farmers who choose not to use the label as well.
When and Where to Source Cheaper Organic Produce
Most towns and cities have open air, farmers’ markets where fresh, local produce is sold weekly. Local farmers often charge lesser compared to grocery markets and supermarkets for fresh fruits and vegetables.
Organic food cooperatives may also be available in your area. Although typically, co-op members are charged lower when buying in cooperative stores, non-members can also buy at a slightly higher price (but still lower compared to grocery markets) than members.
Aside from organic food cooperatives, there may also be community supported agricultural (CSA) farms. These farms often make a profit by selling produce and crops to a group of individuals and families. Since the customers buy in bulk, CSA farms give their produce at a lower price.
Another way to acquire cheaper fruits and vegetables is to buy those in season. They are guaranteed fresh and definitely adequate in stock. Just make sure to compare prices between grocery stores, supermarkets, and nearby markets to get the most affordable prices.
If you do not have the luxury of having one of the above-mentioned options in your area, there are always the supermarkets and grocery stores. Stores that carry organic food are Whole Foods, Safeway, Harris Teeter, Trader Joe’s, Hannaford, Albertsons, Food Lion, Publix Super Markets, Pathmark, and Super Target.
Costco has just been named the largest retailer of organic foods in 2015, surpassing Whole Foods. Sprouts Farmers Market is slowly growing its business within the Southwest region, starting originally in Phoenix, then moving to Atlanta in 2015 and now opening stores in Missouri, Alabama, and Tennessee.
Here are helpful links where you can find local harvests in your country:
The Ideal Diet in Reducing Carbon Footprint
Based on the bar graph from Shrink That Footprint, beef and lamb produce the greatest amount of carbon dioxide emissions, supply chain losses and consumer waste. Snacks and sugar, as well as oils and spreads provided the least amount of carbon dioxide emissions. Cereals and breads are also low; however, if you were following a Paleo Diet, your best option would be to eat more chicken, fish, pork, vegetables and some fruits.
Drinks also produce less carbon intensity. Just make sure to choose healthy options such as vegetable smoothies and fresh fruit juices. For a better alternative, drink water. It certainly has amazing benefits to the body and definitely produces the least carbon footprint.
One good read about greenhouse gas emissions of fruits and vegetables is the working paper made for the Food Climate Research Network. The paper provides an in-depth analysis of the greenhouse gas emissions by the agricultural industry in the UK, starting from production, to transportation up to post-harvest processes.
No fruits and vegetables exist in the market today that are completely pesticide-free. There are still traces of pesticides, herbicides and insecticides in our food. However, to keep healthy and to lessen the risk for cancer or disorders, always aim to eat organic fruits and vegetables.
The best option would be to grow your own to ensure that it is completely free from any chemicals. David Wolfe, the spokesperson for Nutribullet, founder and president of The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation, and author of many health and wellness books, such as Superfoods: The Food and Medicine of the Future; Longevity Now: A Comprehensive Approach to Healthy Hormones, Detoxification, Super Immunity, Reversing Calcification and Total Rejuvination and Eating for Beauty believes in organic farming and growing your own food.
However, if this is not possible, always make it a point to shop at local farmer’s markets. Local (or regional) produce is anything that is grown and transported less than a 400-mile radius. It would not hurt either to talk to your local farmers and vendors about their sold produce.