Examining The Push For Organic

You've probably noticed that a lot of groceries stores are renovating and making room for more and more organic products. Concern for food contaminants has pumped up America's demand for alternative options to conventionally farmed food. Despite higher costs a growing number of people are going organic, but is it worth it? Kathleen Doheny of HealthDay news reports:

The organic food industry in the United States surpassed $10 billion in consumer sales in 2003, according to the Organic Trade Association (OTA), which is based in Greenfield, Mass. The market has grown from between 17 percent to 21 percent each year since 1997, according to OTA estimates.

In a survey done by Ohio State University Extension, researchers interviewed 2,000 Ohio residents in 2004 and found that 40 percent "often" or "occasionally" buy organic foods. Thirty-two percent of the respondents said they would pay 10 percent more for organic foods; six percent said they'd pay 25 percent more for organics, and one percent said they'd be willing to pay 50 percent more.

At face-value the shift in consumer preference appears to be a good thing, but the recent organic movement has its skeptics:

A critic of the organic movement, Alex Avery, director of research for the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues, a Washington, D.C. think tank, said organic farmers use pesticides, too. Instead of calling them pesticides, however, organic farmers are likely to call them "botanical products." For example: some organic farmers use pyrethrum, which is a derivative of the chrysanthemum plant.

That's a fact organic farmers don't dispute.

As for organic food advocates' claim that non-organic foods contain too many pesticides, Avery said: "You are talking about residues at the part per billion level."

Avery's position is not totally off base. In a previous post Dr. Fuhrman echoed similar sentiments. Here's an excerpt:

Some scientists argue that the extremely low level of pesticide residue remaining on produce is insignificant and that there are naturally occurring toxins in all natural foods that are more significant. The large amount of studies performed on the typical pesticide-treated produce have demonstrated that consumption of produce, whether organic or not, is related to lower rates of cancer and disease protection, not higher rates. Certainly, it is better to eat fruits and vegetables grown and harvested using pesticides than not eating them at all. The health benefits of eating phytochemical-rich produce greatly outweigh any risk pesticide residues might pose.

If you're curious about organic food, there's plenty more worth reading in that post.

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Kirsten - June 10, 2006 10:16 AM

I'm a fan of organic produce, but it's part of a package for me. Ideally, I want to produce a lot of my own food, but that's not much of a reality at the moment! Next best, is locally-produced organic or non-organic food. I don't want my fruits and veggies shipped 10,000 miles and picked way unripe! I do focus on US produce since we have phased out more of the harsher pesticides. It's a shame "organic" is another marketing tool, but hopefully it raises awareness about food security. Maybe someday more folks will focus on local produce again (as oil prices continue to rise?).

Linda - June 12, 2006 1:40 PM

I now wonder how much faith to have in foods labeled "organic." I wonder if it is as clean/free from poisons as it's supposed to be.
For now, it is my first choice, however, and I will continue to purchase it. I am lucky to be able to purchase it and have so much variety at my disposal.

So sad to be so suspicious; but necessary.

Michael - June 13, 2006 1:11 PM

I buy from some local farmers who I can visit to see how they plant their food. While they aren't certified organic (certification costs too much", it is indeed organic. I can purchase organic produce at reasonable prices that supports the local economy and hasn't traveled any distance at all. It tastes better, too. Check out the Slow Food websites for more information.

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