Organic food: it seems appealing, but it certainly can be expensive (and sometimes hard to find). So, when is it worth going organic? And why does it even matter?
Current conventional food production relies upon the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and GMO’s, as well as antibiotics, hormones and pharmaceuticals given to animals. So, let’s delve a bit deeper into what these pesticides and GMO’s are actually are and why they’re detrimental to our health.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has over 80,000 chemicals that are registered for daily use in the US. The US uses 18,000 different types of pesticides (for sake of comparison, there were less than 200 pesticides used in 1962). The scary thing is that insects become resistant to pesticides, so new ones keep getting developed.
So, when a food has USDA Organic seal, it ensures that the food has gone through a three-year transition away from conventional farming practices. Why a three-year process you ask? Well, because pesticide residues can live in the soil for up to three years! Scary. But, when a food carries the USDA Organic label, it ensures that to food does not contain synthetic pesticides, synthetic herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, genetically modified seeds, fertilizers from sewage sludge, and irradiated seeds.
Why is it so important to avoid these pesticides? Organophosphate pesticides are the most commonly used form of pesticides, and these have known neurotoxic properties (science nerds: they act on the cholinergic system by inhibiting acetylcholinesterase).
And what about GMO’s? GMO’s are Genetically Modified Organisms and they are also scary. They are essentially the product of scientists splicing genes from one species into the DNA of another species. This practice was developed in the 1970s and has been widely implemented in our current agricultural practices. As of 2013, 94% of soy, 90% of canola, 88% of corn and 95% of sugar beets grown in the US are genetically modified (according to the Institute of Responsible Technology). Why did this practice start? For a few reasons, but primarily to make the crops resistant to herbicide (so they could survive deadly doses of weed killers), to contain built-in pesticides and to be virus-resistant. What this means, is that crops now have even more herbicide residue, because they can tolerate more without being killed. It also means that they contain compounds that are known to kill insects. Clearly, that can’t be good for your health. There is scientific evidence linking consumption GMO’s to development of allergies, liver problems and reproductive problems. What’s more, a study showed that the genetic material inserted into genetically modified soy was taken up into the microflora in humans’ guts – that means that we can incorporate this nasty stuff and it can then persist within us by living in our natural gut bacteria. Yuck.
Oddly enough, the government doesn’t seem to be too worried about this. In 1992, the FDA basically stated that they were indifferent about the use of genetically modified species. And interestingly, while the USDA regulates the products of biotechnology, it has no control over the process. Genetically modified crops are not required to go through ANY safety testing to determine their safety for consumption (or their effect on the environment, for that matter). Just for sake of comparison: the European Parliament requires that all foods containing GMO’s be labeled.
So, why doesn’t our government seem concerned? Well, it’s probably because the government subsidizes the growth of most of these crops (especially corn and soy), so they want us to keep eating these crops. Here is a little history for you: the USDA was actually created by President Lincoln. Essentially, homesteaders were given land in the western states to farm. The government taught them to farm and how to use crops (namely, wheat, barley, corn and soy). Conflict of interest? You decide.
What about “organic” processed foods? If they are marked with the USDA Organic seal, you can be assured that 95% of the ingredients were grown using organic farming practices. However, there are more than 40 “non organic” substances that are allowed in foods carrying the USDA Organic seal, which you should still look out for and avoid. These include potassium hydroxide and silicon dioxide. Remember, that the label “Natural” means absolutely nothing; there are no checks and balances to control or ensure the quality of the nutrients used. Bottom line: read your ingredients. If it contains crops that tend to be grown with pesticides or GMO’s, go organic. And as always, skip it if it contains a bunch of additives (see my previous blog post on this: https://dramyosborne.com/blog/2019/02/16/food-additives-do-you-even-know-whats-in-your-food/ ).
Obviously, it isn’t practical to always purchase organic produce. The Environmental Working Group creates the “dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen list” each year.
2019 Dirty Dozen:
2019 Clean Fifteen:
- Sweet Corn
- Frozen Sweet Peas
- Honeydew Melon
What if you simply cannot buy organic? Remove skin from produce or use an acid wash (1 cup distilled vinegar with 3-4 cups water) and soak produce for 10-25 minutes and then scrub the produce. And remember, buying local is always a better bet (so hit up your local farmer’s market and ask them about their farming practices).
Here’s the thing – we are all exposed to nasty stuff on a daily basis (pollution, the plastics we use, pharmaceuticals, our water, the list goes on…), so why not do your best to limit your exposure to things we do have control over?