Sunorganic Discusses the Nature of Organic Food
such as organic fruits and organic nuts
If you'd like to see our land and water support life on Earth well into the future, you need to know about organic farming and sustainable agriculture. Here's a brief introduction to a very important subject.
Pesticides In Our Food
Our biggest fears stem from pesticides and the concern that those currently used to grow our food might someday prove to be carcinogenic, as DDT was discovered to be a generation ago.
"In 1993 the EPA estimated that over two billion pounds of pesticide-active ingredients a year are applied throughout the United States," says Jay Feldman, director of the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides, in Washington, D.C. The agriculture industry accounted for 84 percent of this pesticide use. "Also, manufacturing industries are disposing of hazardous wastes and using them as fertilizer ingredients - spreading them around to farms," he says. "So not only is American produce sprayed with a combination of pesticides, much of the fertilizer plowed into the fields is toxic, our food is often sprayed again on its way to market and once again at the market. "
Because the current research points to and suspects pesticide poisoning as being carcinogenic and hormone-disruptive, the American public is being forced to think about other ways of doing things," says Jay Feldman. "Last year, consumers spent $3 ½ billion on certified organic food. Although that only accounts for one percent of our food-production system, it is a start."
More and more of us today are seeing fit to spend a little extra to buy food labeled "organic". Some 60 percent of Americans, according to a survey cited in the December 15, 1997, issue of The New York Times, voice interest in buying organic foods, making pesticide-free foods more popular.
While many of us assume that a federally approved pesticide is "safe", Dr. Marion Moses, M.D., founder of the Pesticide Education Center, in San Francisco, and author of the book Designer Poisons: How to Protect Your Health and Home from Toxic Pesticides, and many pesticide watch organizations contend that the Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates pesticides, has not tested all the ingredients in these chemicals and does not require companies to disclose or label their so-called inert ingredients. Jay Feldman also notes that government studies and regulations do not take into consideration the effects of combinations of pesticides (only the effects of individual pesticides have been studied). Furthermore, none of the recent EPA studies have concerned themselves with the fact that 85 to 90 percent of all pesticides drift from their point of application, increasing the risk that nearby areas might be exposed.
According to Dr. Moses, chronic pesticide health complaints are birth defects, cancer, brain damage, and reproductive damage. (A class of chemicals that has gained recent attention is called endocrine-disrupting chemicals, also known as estrogenic pesticides or "gender benders." In very low doses, EDC's have the ability to affect the sexual characteristics of animals. The evidence of human reproductive damage is still being examined.)
The Farmer's Dilemma
Pesticides are poisons, designed to kill things that threaten our food supply: insecticides to kill the bugs that would eat a crop before we get the chance to, herbicides to halt invasive weeds, and fungicides to stave off decay. It seems silly to knowingly use such chemicals when they could be harmful, so why use pesticides at all? The reasons are practical, economic, and cosmetic: to supply high yields of crops, to reduce the cost and labor of farming, and to produce relatively unblemished, visually appealing produce. Organic farming is more labor-intensive than conventional farming, and usually takes place on a smaller scale than the so-called "chemical agribusiness" factory farms.
In the United States, conventional farming has often been subsidized by taxpayer funds through the government. Some believe that this keeps the price of conventional food artificially low, not reflecting the true cost of bringing food to market. Costs are externalized. Organic farmers do not receive these subsidies, and thus the shelf price may actually reflect a truer market cost.
What Does Organic Farming Mean?
Organic farming is not just the absence of pesticides, but the presence of an agricultural system that protects croplands, supports biodiversity, and respects the balance of nature rather than attempting to control it with powerful, often toxic synthetic chemicals.
The Organic Trade Association defines organic farming as based on practices that replenish and maintain soil fertility, while assisting nature's balance through diversity and recycling of energy and nutrients. This method also strives to avoid or reduce the use of synthetic fertilizers and pest controls. Organic foods are processed, packaged, transported and stored to retain maximum nutritional value, without the use of artificial preservatives, coloring or other additives, irradiation or synthetic pesticides."
Aren't All Natural Foods Organic?
No they are not! Foods may be free of artificial ingredients, or "natural", but still grown by conventional methods. The term "organic" on the label means the food has been grown and processed according to strict guidelines, carefully documented and certified (see below for more on what "certification" means).
Many terms are used now by growers that sound as if they are the same as organic, such as "pesticide-free", or "residue-free". These are unregulated labels that imply that the grower has reduced use of dangerous pesticides, but they are unenforceable and are not the same as organic! Legitimate, ecologically sound, reduced pesticide practices do exist, often under an "IPM" (meaning "Integrated Pest Management") label. Misleading use of any food labeling term hurts the consumer and the legitimate grower, and may even undercut the success of organics.
At SunOrganic Farm, it is our objective to get to you, our valued customer, the absolute best in Certified Organically grown foods. On occasion, we will carry a widely used food product that is pesticide and preservative free but impossible to get certification on. Our catalog and label will clearly indicate this.
How Do I Know If It's Really Organic?
Certification is your best guarantee. Any reputable grower, processor, or retail store will use the organic label if the product has been certified by an independent third-party organization, either governmental or private.
In December 1997, the Department of Agriculture proposed new federal regulations on organic foods. When they are finalized, probably at the end of this year, the regulations will identify food grown without hormones, pesticides, or synthetic fertilizers as "organic." (The soil in which the produce is grown must have been "clean" for three years as well.) Processed foods that contain 50 to 95 percent organic ingredients may carry a "made with certain organicingredients" label while products that are less than 50 percent organic may use the word organic only in the ingredients list. Until the regulations go into effect, "organic" can mean any number of things. Only about half of the states presently regulate organic food, and very little exists to prevent producers from applying the label "organic" to any food they wish. Currently, only "certified organic" products, verified by a private certification agency, are assured of being free of synthetic chemicals and harmful pesticides.
What Can I Do?
Buy organic. Certified organic foods are available by mail at SunOrganic Farm. Call toll free 1-888-269-9888 for a free catalog.
Support organics. Buy in bulk, be selective and choose organics especially for our children and for those whose immune systems may be compromised by illness or age. The more each of us supports organics, the more active the economic cycles that will bring prices down.
Finally, the long-term price of conventional farming, in terms of the damage to our soil, water, farm workers and everyone's health, is very great. We pay these costs when taxpayers fund environmental cleanup or health care costs. This must be taken into account when measuring the costs and benefits of buying organic.
Modern organic farming methods not only protect the earth, but also produce what is perhaps the safest and most flavorful food on the market. Organic farming and its methods of distribution could be the only alternative to extinction.