A Closer Look at Organic Food In America

Posted on October 26, 2014

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By: Katie and Halle Butler

bigstockphoto_Organic_And_Natural_Symbol_5474962We feel pretty great any time that we shop at Whole Foods, right? We walk into the store and think of all those organic foods made especially without hormones with so many health benefits. We strut up and down the isles, knowing that every dollar spent out of pockets on such organic food is helping animals, people, and farmers alike. Isn’t it? Isn’t it the right choice to eat organic? Sorry folks, but it depends upon what definition of organic you are using.

Over the past forty years, the demand for “organic” products has increase, yet the term has evolved to mean something very different from its original definition. The original 1940’s expression according to J.J. Rodale, a Pennsylvania farmer, meant “a method of farming in which the farmer strove for improved natural soil conditions through the use of natural additions of manure and compost and the avoidance of chemical amendments.” In other words, farmers used natural soil and natural methods to produce food products. However, the term “organic” today means something very different than it did sixty or seventy years ago. Because of government regulations, the term “organic” now refers to food production that “avoids or largely excludes the use of synthetically compounded fertilizers, pesticides, growth regulations, or livestock feed additives.” The problem? Ambiguity and leniency in what organic farming exactly is.

Today, the term “organic” has loopholes. For example, in order to be organic, regulations state that livestock must graze for a minimum of 120 days per year and a minimum of 30% of their dry food must come from a pasture. But what is pasture, exactly? According to government regulation, pasture only means access to the outdoors. So in reality, organic livestock does not necessarily ever have to go outside, yet just have access to pasture. And what exactly does “pasture” entail? This is unclear. So that little cow you imagine grazing and producing your milk on those cartons in the organic section of your grocery? More than half the year, they are inside a barn in the dark.  Further, cows are not meant to process corn in their bodies because they are grass-eaters. However, often farmers feed cows corn products, and these cows can still be called “organic.” Why? Because if the corn was produced “organically” with less than 5% of pesticides or chemicals, the cow can therefore be called organic as well, even though corn makes cows sick causing early deaths in cattle. So is an organic cow really organic? Hmm. Tough question.

Consumers naively assume that organic products are of higher quality and safer than their non-organic counterparts. However, more often than not, organic products are of the same nutritional value of their non-organic equivalents. Further, in order to be considered “organic”, a food product, when tested, may be at maximum 5% percent of pesticide residue. So yes, pesticides are used on today’s “organic” foods. Surprised? Me too.  Unfortunately, the term “organic” has become a business tactic, used to sell more food at higher prices. Let’s rethink what and how we buy what we put into our bodies.

I am not arguing against organic foods; we all should aim to put what is best in our bodies to live fruitfully and healthily. However, we must pay attention to what we eat and how it is made to best make choices about our food. Therefore, don’t live naively, but investigate what goes into your body, read labels, and think healthy.

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Posted in: Health