Organic farmers focus their efforts on renewable resources and the conservation of water and soil. Most organic foods cost 10 to 40 percent more than conventionally grown food.
Some reasons people may feel better about paying the higher cost are thinking the organic options taste better, may be more nutritious, have lower levels of pesticides and herbicides and have a desire to help the environment. On the other hand, some choose not to purchase organic food because it has a higher cost, fewer choices, a blemished appearance and uncertainty if the product is truly organic.
What does organic produce mean?
Organic refers to the methods and conditions under which fresh fruits and vegetables are grown and processed. Organic farming practices are designed to protect the environment by conservation of water, soil and man-made chemicals.
How do you know for sure you are buying organic?
The Organic Foods Production Act and the National Organic Program assure consumers that the organic agricultural products they purchase are produced, processed, and certified with consistent national organic standards. Included in these standards are a list of potentially toxic, naturally occurring pesticides that are approved for use in certified organic production. In order to use the organic symbol, the operation must be certified by USDA-accredited certifying agents. Labeling requirements are based on the percentage of organic ingredients in a product.
“100 percent organic” must contain only organically produced ingredients.
“Organic” must consist of at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients.
“Made with organic” products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients. These products cannot use the USDA Organic seal but may list up to three organic ingredients on the front of the package.
Many producers may follow organic practices, preserve the environment, reduce the use, or even refuse to employ, any pesticides but do not choose to become “organically certified” due to certification costs.
Some people feel that organic produce tastes better than conventionally grown. Others indicate that they taste no difference. Taste is highly subjective. If your sole reason for buying organic is taste, try for yourself. Taste may differ depending on the fruit or vegetable—for example, organic carrots may taste better to you than conventionally grown, but you taste no difference in broccoli. Taste of produce, organic or conventional, can be impacted by many factors including weather, nutrients, variety and post-harvest handling.
If you ask 10 nutrition experts about organic produce and the nutrients they provide and you are likely to get 10 different answers. Answers may range from “organic is a waste of money” to “only eat organic produce.” Even with over 100 studies that have examined the nutritional quality of organic versus conventionally grown produce, there is not a definitive answer.
Several studies indicate that, depending on the products and growing conditions, there is little if any nutritional difference in organic and conventionally grown produce. Others have shown that organic produce, in some cases, is more nutritious.
In the coming years, research will continue on the nutritional comparisons of organic and conventional produce. The question remains as to whether slight differences in nutritional quality are worth the cost of buying organic. For some it may be and it is important to evaluate on a case-by-case basis if you are choosing organic over conventional for nutritional reasons.
Many people are concerned over the use of pesticides. There is consensus that even small doses of certain pesticides can cause health problems, especially during fetal development and early childhood. It is advised to minimize consumption of many pesticides, both organically approved and those used in conventional production.
According to USDA pesticide surveillance data, conventionally grown produce, in certain instances contain pesticide residues higher than organic produce. Although many of these pesticides are at levels deemed by health authorities to not impact short or long-term health based on the data currently available. While some conventionally grown foods have been shown to have higher pesticide residues, the FDA does set limits as to how much pesticide residue is allowed. We recommend that you wash fresh produce well with cold, running water.
Organic farming practices are designed to minimize the negative impact on food production on the environment. On a per-acre basis, certain organic and conventional production can be shown to put a lower burden on the environment.
If you look at the environmental impact per unit of production, however, there is a slightly different picture. The benefits to the environment by organic farming practices can be seen, but, also can be less efficient than conventional farming methods. Increasing productivity while maintaining low environmental impact is a challenge for organic and conventional farmers.
There have been several foodborne illness outbreaks that have been linked to fresh produce. Bagged spinach, tomatoes, jalapenos have been pulled from the shelves due contamination with pathogens that cause foodborne illness. Fresh produce, regardless of production methods, can become contaminated anywhere from farm-to-fork. The very factor that provides the most nutrition benefits (fresh and raw) is what leads to the risk for foodborne illness – it’s not cooked (and thus pathogens are not killed).
The reason that produce can be contaminated is a function of the introduction of pathogen risks in the pre-harvest, growth, or post-harvest. This can occur with organic or conventionally grown produce. Organic produce is no more or less likely to be “safe” with respect to food safety. Recent reviews of fresh produce safety data have shown that overall there is no difference in the end-product contamination potential of organic or conventional produce. Ultimately, the decision to choose organic is up to the purchaser.
You will need to weigh the benefits with the increased cost of organic produce. If purchasing organic produce is not in your food budget, by all means continue to purchase conventionally grown produce. The health benefits of consuming fruits and vegetables are clear. You should not decrease your consumption of fruits and vegetables in order to afford organic produce.
Source: Dr. Carolyn Dunn, N.C. Cooperative Extension
Healthy Potato Salad
2 pounds small red potatoes, quartered
5 hard boiled eggs
¾ cup fat-free mayonnaise
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon ground mustard
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 large sweet onion, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
½ cup chopped green onions, optional
½ cup julienned sweet red pepper
¼ cup minced fresh parsley
Place potatoes in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 12 to 14 minutes or until tender. Drain and cool potatoes for 30 minutes. Slice eggs in half (discard yolks or save for another use.) Slice whites into ½-inch pieces.
In a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, mustard, salt and pepper. Add the potatoes, egg whites, sweet onion, celery, green onions, red pepper and parsley. Toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or until chilled.
Sandra R. Cain is the Bladen County Extension director. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-862-4591.