The Washington Post ran an article last week about how the “USDA Organic” label is increasingly losing its integrity as more and more companies actively and aggressively seek to have the label on their packaged foods. See full article at:
It is no surprise that “organic” doesn’t mean what it used to. In fact, in most cases, “organic” on a product label means absolutely nothing. For those of us who have been buying organic since it was pretty much synonymous with “hippie”, this is a very sad turn of events. The interpretation of the organic label used to be quite strict before the USDA got involved a few years ago. Prior to “USDA Organic”, the states of California and Oregon typically certified products as organic and the interpretation was far stricter than it is today using the Federal guidelines. To me, “USDA Organic” is an oxymoron; an incongruous figure of speech with self-contradictory effect. Could anything approved by the USDA come anywhere close to the definition of “Organic” that consumers truly seek? Considering that the USDA is the source of our inhumane national standards for animal confinement operations and the cheerleader for the intrusion of GM foods into our food supply, I should think not!
Practically speaking then, should you buy “Organic” and pay a premium for the privilege? The answer is both yes and no. “Yes” would include buying organic produce for those vegetables and fruits that are highly sprayed. These crops are popularly known as the “dirty dozen” and the common denominator among them (besides being highly sprayed) is that they are thin skinned fruits and vegetables that most people eat unpeeled. You can reduce your pesticide exposure significantly by spending the premium to buy these products organic:
Strawberries (NEVER eat these nonorganic! I won’t even let my children go strawberry picking at a nonorganic strawberry farm)
Sweet Bell Peppers (all colors)
On the other hand, there is no need to buy organic for the “Consistently Clean 15”. This list of fruits and vegetables can be purchased from conventional growers as the likelihood of any detectible levels pesticide residue is quite small. I would highly recommend the website for the Environmental Working Group (http://www.ewg.org/
) as this website will keep you current on how to get the biggest bang for your buck where organic is concerned.
The “Consistently Clean 15” include:
Another big way to reduce pesticide exposure is to buy from local growers if at all possible. Local growers, even if using conventional, nonorganic farming methods, frequently eschew the high spray approach of mega farms that ship produce hundreds and even thousands of miles. There is also simply no substitute to shaking the hand of a farmer who lives in your local community and asking him or her about how they work the land. Try calling the headquarters of Conagra Foods and asking a few basic farming questions from the customer service rep who answers your call! Local is always preferable; it easily trumps the “USDA Organic” label for a similar product shipped across the country any day of the week.
I will leave you with one final point to ponder. What about all those packaged products labeled “USDA Organic” that increasingly line the shelves of the corner grocery store? Are these products worth the premium? The short answer is no. The “USDA Organic” label is basically meaningless for these products from a “reduction in pesticide exposure” point of view. What this label does do for you, however, is tip you off to companies that are trying to reduce chemicals and ersatz flavors in their foods. As a result, the “USDA Organic” label will sometimes lead you to products that have more whole ingredients and fewer chemicals, synthetics, and fillers. The final decision must be your own as you pick the product up and analyze the ingredients list. If you need help in this area, I highly recommend calling the Weston A. Price Foundation (http://westonaprice.org/
) and requesting a copy of the annual WAPF Shopping Guide. This purse sized booklet only costs $1 plus shipping and will guide you through the aisles of the grocery store to the healthiest and best food selections for your family. No need to be an expert at label reading. The WAPF has done the work for you!
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
The Healthy Home Economist holds a Master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Mother to 3 healthy children, blogger, and best-selling author, she writes about the practical application of Traditional Diet and evidence-based wellness within the modern household. Her work has been featured by USA Today, The New York Times, ABC, NBC, and many others.