Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Organic labeling challenged

A recent article in a Lancaster paper encouraged readers to opt for local produce rather than spending more on organic alternatives. Of course, the article piqued my interest. After all, I've been advocating for organics and buy only organic whole milk, among other things, for my 14-month-old grandbaby. So, what's the deal?

Well, apparently organic does not necessarily mean free of chemicals/pesticides, regardless of what I thought.

According to Kerry H. Richards, director of Penn State University's Pest Management Information Center, "[Consumers] think 'organic' means not using any pesticides or chemicals. Indeed, that's not really the truth."

The bottom line is a multitude of pesticides, chemicals and other synthetic materials are allowed to be present in organic food production as far as current national standards allow.

To me, this is disturbing news. I, too, was seduced by labels that read Organic.

The prohibited substances are monitored...sort of. As much as they can be by the mere 16 people hired by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture to keep things in check. If a product is labeled USDA Organic it may legally contain up to 5% of non-organic ingredients.Copper sulfate and tetracycline are just 2 of the 245 substances legally permitted in foods labeled organic. Disturbing.

Equally disturbing is the game some of the manufacturers are playing. Since many consumers confuse natural with organic, companies are keeping the same packaging but switching the word organic with natural and fooling customers into buying products they assume are healthier for their families.
Have you been buying Horizon brand yogurt for your toddlers. Look closely. Dean Foods kept the same red and white packaging but switched over to the natural wording. What exactly does that mean? An awful lot of things are natural out there...that doesn't mean they're healthy!

I'm not sure what to advise you here. I'm not sure what I, myself, am going to do. We pay premium prices for organic products. Is it worth it?

Buying local does have its advantages. If you're fortunate enough to have a relationship with a local farmer, you have an in with monitoring what is actually organic. In Pennsylvania, where I live, local farms aren't producing fruits and vegetables at this time of the year. But you can bet I'll be visiting local farm markets come summer.

In the meantime, groups of lobbying congress for changes in the system. Maybe they'll succeed. I've posted lists of foods that are worth the extra cost for organic before, and which ones aren't. Here's another listing of them; glean what you can from it:

Worth the price      

Bell Peppers

Don't bother

Frozen corn and peas

Generally speaking, if a fruit or vegetable has an unpermeable skin that is generally removed before eating, it's a safer non-organic choice. A word of caution, however -- make sure you wash your food, even if you will be peeling it.

I'll be following up on this in the future. As I learn of new legislation, etc., I'll pass on the info to you.

And, by the way, I'm back. The holidays took their toll on me and I needed to step away for awhile. Thank you for checking back to see what the Green Grandma has to say. I write, simply because I care. You read, because you care, too.

Keeping it healthy and green,





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