Good For You, Good For the Planet
By Kali D. Foxman
Taken from "Better Nutrition" September 2003 p.49-52
When you look at the glossy green pears in the produce section of the
grocery store, you might notice that they now sit beside their organic
counterparts. What you can see is that the organic pears may not look
as lustrous, and they may be more expensive. But what you can't see is
that they organic pears are grown without chemical pesticides.
So before you buy the conventionally grown pears you usually choose, think
about the fact that even though the organic fruit may not be as alluring
to the eyes, it's certainly better for you-and the environment.
Both conventional and organic pears taste good, and both varieties are
good for you. The difference between them lies in how they were grown
and processed. Organic pears, like all organic agricultural products,
are farmed without the persistent use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers.
Organic products are also processed without artificial ingredients or
preservatives-that's why some fruits and vegetables may not look as colorful
as conventionally grown produce. And organic products don't contain hormones
As of October 2002, all food labeled "organic" has had to comply
with stringent national standards set by the US Department of Agriculture
(USDA). The National Organic Standards Board, a USDA advisory board, defined
the aims of organic agricultural production in 1995 and stated tat the
principles for organic production are to use materials and practices that
enhance the ecological balance of natural systems.
The Good Earth
Bob Scowcroft, executive director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation,
located in Santa Cruz, California, says the use of pesticides in food
production has created a toxic legacy, and different aspects of the environmental
have been contaminated, from ground water to soil, thus creating a positive
environmental impact, Scowcroft says. "The soil is the heart of the
organic growing system. Farmers increase soil fertility, add micronutrients
and create the right balance of moisture. The healthier the soil, the
healthier the planet."
Because of exposure to chemicals through rain, wind drifts and ground
water, it's nearly impossible to guarantee that organic food is completely
free of pesticides and herbicides used in conventional growing. One of
the goals of organic production, however, is to use methods that minimize
pollution from air, soil, and water. Because organic production methods
don't use standard agricultural chemicals, many people concerned about
the sustainability of soil and water prefer the fruits and vegetables
it yields. As Julie Almond, natural and organic section manager of the
Ukrop's at Virginia Center Marketplace in Glen Allen, Virginia, says,
"Common sense says if you treat the planet better, it will treat
Although there is no conclusive evidence suggesting that organically produced
foods are more nutritious than conventionally grown foods, organic foods
and fiber have avoided the application of toxic chemicals, some of which
have been linked to cancer and other diseases. According to the Organic
Trade Association (OTA), a leading resource for information about the
organic industry, organic farming methods provide a safer and more sustainable
environment in the long run. "There's a bigger story to organics
than vitamins and minerals," Almond says.
Scowcroft says that although it has not been specifically stated that
organic foods are more nutritious, there are what he calls "intriguing
signposts," which point to better health and nutrition. "You
can make an early adjustment to your lifestyle with things that may be
proven beneficial later on," he says. "We're still years away
from the elimination of pesticides and allowing nature to breathe."
As more people learn the differences between organic and conventionally
grown foods, they are choosing organic foods as an alternative. The organic
market has grown 20-24 percent annually, according to the OTA, and total
sales are estimated at $8.5 billion a year. Even though sales of organic
products are steadily climbing, some consumers remain dissatisfied with
Lauren Grossman, manager and health consultant of The Health Nuts in Great
Neck, New York, says consumers constantly ask why organic foods are so
expensive. "They don't even ask why organics are important,"
Grossman believes if you keep your fruits and vegetables as free from
additives as possible, you're doing yourself a service, and price should
no be a big concern. She does admit that her natural foods store tries
to keep its prices as competitive as possible. "When organic crops
are in season, prices are competitive," Grossman says.
She says that in the summer, you can probably buy a conventional watermelon
for 8-10 cents a pound, but an organic watermelon might cost about 89
cents a pound. "It's like the stock market," Grossman says.
"It depends on the week."
In terms of growing, harvesting, transporting and storing organic products,
the OTA says prices reflect the same costs as conventionally grown foods.
Organic retail prices, however, may tend to be higher because organic
food must meet stricter regulations governing production steps from the
farm to the grocery store. As a result, the process is often more labor
and management intensive, and is usually done on a smaller scale than
According to the OTA, if all the indirect costs of conventional food production-cleanup
of polluted water, replacement of eroded soils, and costs of health care
for farmers and their workers-were factored into the price of food, organic
foods would cost the same or less.
Grossman is adamant that it's what people are not getting that's important.
"They're not getting a buildup of pesticides," she says.
Brant Shapiro, a general manager of The Health Shoppe in Morristown, New
Jersey, has educated his staff to understand organic production methods
and laws so they can help consumers understand what they're buying. "I
wish people were more involved in the whole process," he says, "and
more aware of what organic means." Shapiro says people tend to assume
that if they are shopping in a natural foods store, whatever they buy
is organic. But that isn't always the case. Today, with the growing number
of organic products, most retailers clearly label which products in each
section are organic to avoid confusion.
Grossman, as well as other retailers, sees a wonderful future for organics.
"As far as what we've done to the planet-stripping it of so much-how
can we continue?" she says. "Organics will only get more precious.
I think there will always be a market for them."