For Better or for Worse: “Organic”

When considering whether to purchase food labeled “organic”, do you make certain assumptions about nutrition or overall quality?  Do you have a clear understanding of what the benefits of the “organic” label are?  Does the label infer better taste?

The New York Times published an article yesterday “(from a Stanford University study known as a meta-analysis, in which previous findings are aggregated but no new laboratory work is conducted) conclud[ing] that fruits and vegetables labeled organic were, on average, no more nutritious than their conventional counterparts, which tend to be far less expensive. Nor were they any less likely to be contaminated by dangerous bacteria like E. coli.”

“Dr. Bravata [Dr. Dena Bravata, a senior affiliate with Stanford’s Center for Health Policy and the senior author of the paper] agreed that people bought organic food for a variety of reasons — concerns about the effects of pesticides on young children, the environmental impact of large-scale conventional farming and the potential public health threat if antibiotic-resistant bacterial genes jumped to human pathogens. “Those are perfectly valid,” she said.”

Organic spinach is not genetically different from conventionally grown spinach.  Neither is an organic strawberry genetically different from a conventional strawberry.  I never made the assumption that there were inherent nutritional differences, did you?

To me as a food novice, the organic label distinguishes food in at least two different ways:

  1. Produce is far less likely to retain trace amounts of pesticides as the use of conventional pesticides/herbicides is not permitted, and the soil produce is grown in must have been documented as being free of such chemicals for at least three years prior to the inception of the garden.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture conducts annual tests, and the farmer must provide detailed seasonal records of how the produce was managed for the “organic” designation to be approved for continued use.
  2. Meat is free from added hormones and additives.  Other requirements related to the use of fertilizers and radiation also apply.

There are, of course, several different “organic” label designations, and the requirements for each differ distinctly.  This conversation is a perfect example of how a small amount of self-education can create informed decision-making.  If the nutritional value of an organic and a non-organic piece of produce does not differ, are you willing to pay what may be up to a 50% price differential for food without chemicals, hormones or other additives?

Have you done your own taste tests between organic produce and conventional produce for things like greens, berries and fruit?  Have you noticed differences in color or texture or tenderness or taste between organic and non-organic chicken and beef?

My view is that food quality choices are just that… choices.  But, they should be informed choices, not ones made because of marketing campaigns or assumptions.

We have the luxury of choosing what we eat every single day, and producers hear  our voices about quality through the dollars we spend on food.

How informed are you?

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