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Organics Rule
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 or antibiotics.
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 you better."
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."
Growing Green
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 high prices.
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," she says.
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 conventional farming.
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."