As more and more supermarkets across North America respond to the growing consumer demand for healthy foods, foods grown organically will become even more affordable and accessible to the average supermarket shopper. If you're still unsure about all the hype over going organic, here are some answers to the common questions about organic food.
The definition for organic food is not as simple as you might expect. In everyday popular language, it refers to food that has been produced "naturally," without artificial (synthetic) pesticides, herbicides or genetically modified organisms. This can apply to food bought in a supermarket, food grown at home, or food that has been hunted or gathered in the wild.
Since 2003, in the United States the legal definition of "organic food" applies to foods that have been certified organic. This means the food has been guaranteed by a USDA-approved independent agency to meet specific guidelines. In the United States, those guidelines are as follows:
Unfortunately, recently congress voted to weaken organic certification criteria in the United States, including the decision to allow several synthetic food additives and processing aids to be added to foods without notifying the public, and allowing some animals to be treated with hormones and fed genetically engineered feed prior to being converted to organic production. Many organic organizations are currently fighting to have these decisions reversed.
No. Uses of certain natural pesticides are permitted (with restrictions) when farmers are threatened with total crop failure. To avoid this, organic farming methods stress the use of soil building, crop rotation and biological controls (the use of beneficial insects) to keep ideal production conditions in balance. That said, synthetic residues may be carried to organic fields from nearby fields using chemicals, and crops are still subject to any air born pollutants present in the environment. All fruit and produce, whether organically or conventionally grown, should be thoroughly washed before consuming.
Organically grown food may not be any more nutritious than conventionally grown food, but it is grown without the use of potentially harmful synthetic herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers. The EPA currently lists 60% of all herbicides, 90% of all fungicides and 30% of all insecticides as potentially cancer causing.
A second reason is that organic farming encourages soil-building practices. This means that instead of continuously growing only the crops with a high profit margin, farmers must keep rotating the crops they grow in order to build healthy soil.
A third reason contributing to the high price of organic foods is government subsidies. If food grown using conventional methods reflected the true costs of growing, harvesting, transportation and storage costs, organic foods would cost closer to the same, maybe even less, than conventionally grown foods.
There are several strategies for making organic food more affordable. First of all, take advantage of seasonal foods by buying in bulk and freezing the excess for use during the off-season. An alternative is to buy preserved foods when not in season.
Consider joining a co-op or teaming up with a friend to buy a share in a community-supported agriculture program.
Shop around. Compare prices among farmer's markets, specialty stores and larger supermarket chains. Certain products may be cheaper at certain stores. Be flexible and willing to shop among several stores to get the best deal. Be sure to ask about available coupons or special offers.
If you have the space, consider growing your own. Nothing is more rewarding than sitting down to a meal that you have prepared with fresh food you have grown yourself.
Visit the organic Consumer's Association at www.organicconsumers.org
About The Author: Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services. Contact her on the web at http://www.sustainable-media.com
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