Oct 4, 2016

Why Organic...Isn't

Nobody wants to hear this. Perhaps that's why most in the media don't report it. And trust me, I know how frustrating it is to be a mom wanting to keep her family healthy only to discover everything she thought about healthy food is wrong. It's a bitter pill, but it's the truth: Organic produce often isn't. At least, not in the way you think it is.

I've long preached that store bought organic food isn't all that. But for some time now, I've been learning about disturbing trends in the organic world. Stuff that actually could be hurting your family's health.

Sometimes They Lie

When I was researching my ebook Grow the Dirty Dozen, I learned there have been instances of farmers being caught using synthetic chemicals on their certified organic crops. For example, in 2011, the Pesticide Action Network discovered that a group of "organic" California farmers were dousing their strawberries with synthetic fumigants. Sometimes farmer's cheat. Imagine how many times they don't get caught.

In addition, as the New York Times pointed out in 2011, many seedlings and stock plants that are purchased and grown by organic farmers are exposed to loads of man made chemicals before they reach organic farms. Farmers know they aren't purchasing organic stock, and they continue to buy conventionally grown seedlings because they think they are less likely to become diseased. Still, there you have it: Your supposedly organic food that's actually been exposed to man made chemicals.

Sometimes Natural Isn't Best

But perhaps a bigger problem among organic farmers is that their produce is sprayed with natural chemicals. That's right. One can safely say that all the organic produce in your grocery store is sprayed. It's only considered organic because those sprays are considered natural.

Here's the problem, though, Not everything that's natural is safe for human consumption.

For example, a common "organic" spray called rotenone-pyrethrin is linked to Parkinson's disease. (And it's a well known fish-killer, too.)

It gets worse.

Conventional, non-organic lettuce, for example, is sprayed once or twice during its lifetime - only when the farmer thinks it's needed, since sprays are expensive. On the other hand, organic lettuce might be sprayed 5 - 10 times with a natural, organic spray like rotenone-pyrethrin. Why? Farmers often “have to use a lot of the natural pesticides because they break down faster,” says Linda Chalker-Scott, a professor of horticulture and landscape architecture at Washington State University. “One of the benefits of some of the more traditional synthetic pesticides is that they have been manufactured to be more effective at lower doses.”

The USDA has tested such lettuce and found that pesticides are 10 times (or more) prevalent on the organic lettuce than on conventionally grown lettuce. Many other studies show similar results on other types of produce.

And let's remember why farmer's use pesticides: to kill insects. Pesticides are poison, and some of the same poisons that kill insects have the potential to do harm to humans, too. And, it seems, many organic pesticides are rated with a higher level of concern by the EPA than many synthetic pesticides. (See chart here.)

They Linger

Here's another problem with organic produce. According to Science Daily, "an undergraduate chemistry student, in a...small-scale study, recently screened veggies for a number of banned pesticides and made an interesting discovery: The chemicals showed up on both conventionally grown and organic veggies—in roughly comparable amounts. In fact, organic carrots had higher amounts of some chemicals than the conventional vegetables did." Other studies support these findings.

Turns out, many banned chemicals stay in the soil. Some for many decades. Yet the USDA calls a farm organic if it's been synthetic-free for only three years. And so supposedly "organic" produce may contain synthetic chemicals.

What to Do?

I know; it's depressing. All you want is to feed your family food that's grown the way God intended. But the truth is, as long as we embraced mega farms and mono crops, farmers are going to have to spray our food. So what can you do?

First and foremost, I recommend avoiding grocery store produce; the produce found there is most likely sprayed with something.

In an ideal world, you would grow all your own produce. That way, you'd know exactly what's been put on it. If you don't already, I strongly recommend that you grow what you can - even if that means merely growing a few pots of lettuce on your porch.

For the produce you can't purchase, seek out local farmers at farm stands and markets. But just don't buy blindly. For one thing, a lot of local farmer's produce isn't organic. For another, you'll want to ask the farmer about his or her farming practices. Has her farm always been organic? If not, how long has it been organic? Does she use organic pesticides? How often does she use them? All this, asked in a polite way, is valuable information any decent farmer should be willing to share.

Finally, some of you are probably wondering if you should bother to buy organic at all. Sometimes I wonder this, too! But here's at least one reason to stick with organic: Only organic produce is 100% guaranteed not be GMO.

Photos courtesy of macor / 123RF Stock Photo

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