Can’t Decide if Your Family Should Go Organic?

by Nikky Manausa on January 30, 2010

“Organic” is Everywhere!

We have a typical American family with two working parents.  Besides our housing costs and childcare, the meat of our budget is spent on food.  And now, I’m told I should buy organic when I can.  It’s hard to see the forest for the organic trees when all I see is the need to spend more non-organic paper [twenty] dollar bills.  Besides, there are organic labels on everything now, from the obvious food, to organic cotton  and organic toothpaste.  What is next?  Diapers to create an organic landfill? Oh wait, you can buy organic diapers, too!

What is Organic?

In an eco-friendly nutshell, organic means products that are free from pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge (ewe!), genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. Animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones. According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Organic Program:

Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations.  Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.  Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.  Before a product can be labeled ‘organic,’ a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards.  Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.

Is Organic Really Better?

According to this opinion from Leigh Hopkins, Why Buy Organic, 10 Reasons Why Shopping Organic Really is Better, then it’s a hands-down yes. My only problem with this article and the other 100,000 like it is that there is very little evidence or even references!  So, simply researching “why choose organic” into Google results in an overwhelming 7,000,000+ results. 

With this said, I am definitely not going to take sides, however, I do know that if pesticides can kill bugs, I am not very comfortable with my children consuming them (bugs or pesticides!)!  Although it is very difficult to find respectable and reputable American organizations to put in writing that “pesticides cause cancer”, other countries, like Canada, will state there are correlations and reasons for concerns.  More intoxicating are articles where we are told information like this:

In animal studies, many pesticides are carcinogenic, (e.g., organochlorines, creosote, and sulfallate) while others (notably, the organochlorines DDT, chlordane, and lindane) are tumor promoters. Some contaminants in commercial pesticide formulations also may pose a carcinogenic risk. In humans, arsenic compounds and insecticides used occupationally have been classified as carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Human data, however, are limited by the small number of studies that evaluate individual pesticides. Epidemiologic studies, although sometimes contradictory, have linked phenoxy acid herbicides or contaminants in them with soft tissue sarcoma (STS) and malignant lymphoma; organochlorine insecticides are linked with STS, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), leukemia, and, less consistently, with cancers of the lung and breast; organophosphorous compounds are linked with NHL and leukemia; and triazine herbicides with ovarian cancer. Few, if any, of these associations can be considered established and causal. Hence, further epidemiologic studies are needed with detailed exposure assessment for individual pesticides, taking into consideration work practices, use of protective equipment, and other measures to reduce risk.”  Reference: 

I know research is expensive, but so is cancer.  In fact, you can’t even put a price tag on it! 

Remember When We Were Safe

Remember when people smoked cigarettes without worry, or went to the tanning bed to get their natural glow without thinking about the possibility of skin cancer?  What about the use of asbestos for insulation?  Or perhaps you recall the story of Erin Brockovich

My point is that maybe we should be a little more proactive with our family’s health.  We hear that there may be certain risks with pesticides, but it is often covered up with the “fact” that the benefits outweigh the risks when associated with the positive health factors associated with eating fruits and vegetables.  I agree, you and your kids need to eat your fruits and veggies, but maybe we can make some healthier organic choices with some of the more contaminated ones.

“The Dirty Dozen & The Clean 15″

The Environmental Working Group (EWP) created a very useful list of organic top picks.  You can print this out and store it in your wallet for easy access when you are making choices to keep your family pesticide-free.

Based on EWP’s research, they make the following suggestions:

Buy These DIRTY DOZEN Organic

  1. Peaches
  2. Apples
  3. Bell Peppers
  4. Celery
  5. Nectarines
  6. Strawberries
  7. Cherries
  8. Kale
  9. Lettuce
  10. Grapes (imported)
  11. Carrots
  12. Pears

Save $$ with the EWP’s Clean 15:

  1. Onions
  2. Avocados
  3. Sweet Corn
  4. Pineapples
  5. Mangoes
  6. Asparagus
  7. Sweet Peas
  8. Kiwis
  9. Cabbages
  10. Eggplants
  11. Papayas
  12. Watermelons
  13. Broccoli
  14. Tomatoes
  15. Sweet Potatoes

 Enjoy a happy and healthy shopping, and eating, experience!

Interesting Reads and Related Links

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Kate January 31, 2010 at 9:16 am

Very useful information! I’m glad you broached this topic. Whole Ffoods…here I come (for the dirty dozen). I also recently discovered that you can buy nuts and grains there by the pound for less than the price of the packaged items at the regular grocery store. :)

P.S. How about a blog entry on starting a backyard vegetable garden?

Nikky Manausa January 31, 2010 at 9:29 am

Thanks Kate! I was just at Whole Food’s last night… for sushi. :) Last week at Target I ended up getting a bag of organic apples for LESS than non-organic ones per pound. I bought more than I usually would, but they last forever. :) Thanks for the suggestion on the garden… it’s almost that time of year!

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