Food Safety, Preparation and Storage Tips
Cooperative Extension, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, the University of Arizona

Pesticide Versus Organically Grown Food


INTRODUCTION

Diet plays an important role in health and disease. The foods we choose can help in the prevention of many illnesses, thus increasing the quality of life. In the local supermarket or health food store, there are more food choices than ever before. This can often lead to confusion in determining what food choices are the healthiest. More than ever before, many people are choosing organic foods over conventionally grown foods containing pesticides. Organic foods can include fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy foods, eggs and to some extent meats and poultry. However, these foods can be more expensive than "conventional" foods.


WHAT DOES THE TERM "ORGANIC" MEAN?

Organic foods are defined as those foods that are grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Pesticides are chemical or control agents made to kill insects, weeds and fungal pests that damage crops. In large amounts these have been found to cause different illnesses including cancer. Organic foods do not necessarily mean toxin-free, as plants produce their own natural toxins and these can contaminate organic products. Also, farmers can use natural pesticides, such as sulfur, nicotine and copper, which can also be found on the foods. Organically raised animals are those raised with organic feed and kept free from growth hormones and antibiotics.


ARE ORGANIC FOODS SAFER FOR YOU?

With regards to pesticides, the evidence is pretty conclusive. Your chances of getting pesticide residues are much less with organic food. Even so the amount of man- made pesticides residues found on conventional foods is still well below the level that has been deemed safe.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulate and monitor pesticides use and residues in conventional foods. The real issue for many people who consume organic foods is whether these small doses, over years and decades, might add up to an increased health risk down the line.

Organic foods also have strict rules - concerning the amount of natural contaminants allowed for safe consumption. It has also been found that these foodsonly contain small levels of these contaminants.

Whether you choose organic or conventional foods, experts agree that the best way to safeguard yourself is to thoroughly rinse all fruits and vegetables under running water. You should even wash items with inedible skins, like melons, because cutting the rinds with a knife can bring contaminants to the inside.


ARE ORGANIC FOODS MORE NUTRITIOUS?

Few studies have been done to determine the health benefits between organic and conventional foods, making it difficult to know the differences. However, a few studies have reported that organic produce has higher levels of Vitamin C, certain minerals and antioxidants. But the differences are so small that they probably have no effect on overall health.

Another study looked at the amount of flavonoids found in organic and conventional foods. Flavonoids are micronutrients found in food which play important roles in preventing cancer and heart disease. It was found that the highest levels of flavonoids were found in foods grown by a method called sustainable farming. This kind of farming is a cross between organic and conventional, in which the crops are treated with synthetic fertilizers, but pesticides are used sparingly.


HOW DO TASTE AND APPEARANCE COMPARE TO CONVENTIONAL FOODS?

Studies show no significant flavor difference between organically grown and conventionally grown foods. Instead, taste. differences appear to come from the food variety, its growing conditions, and its maturity and harvest time. Unlike the past, most of today's organic foods compare very favorably in appearance with conventionally grown foods.


HOW DO I KNOW THAT WHAT I BUY IS REALLY ORGANIC?

The National Organic Program ensures that the production, processing and certification of organic foods match a comprehensive standard. Large farming or processing operations must be certified. Even smaller, uncertified organic operations must abide by certain labeling standards. Some of the labeling terms are listed below:

  • "100% organic": No synthetic ingredients are allowed by law.

  • "Organic": At least 95% of ingredients are organically produced.

  • "Made with organic ingredients": At least 70% of ingredients are organic; the other 30% are from a list approved by the USDA.

  • "Free-range" or "free-roaming": Animals had an undetermined amount of daily outdoor access. This label does not provide much information about the product.

  • "Natural" or "All Natural": Doesn't mean organic. No standard definition, except for meat or poultry products, which may not contain any artificial flavoring, colors, chemical preservatives, or synthetic ingredients. Claims aren't checked.

REFERENCES

  • Larson Duyff, Roberta, MS, RD, CFCS. The American Dietetic Association's Complete Food and Nutrition Guide, 2nd Ed. Wiley and Sons Inc. Publishing, 2002.

  • American Dietetic Association. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Food and water safety. September 2003.

  • United States Department of Agriculture. The National Organic Program Consumer Brochure. Organic Food Standards and Labels: The Facts. April 2002.
    http:llw.arns.usda.~ov/no~lConsumersl brochure.html.

  • WebMD. Organic Foods May Fight Disease. March 2003.
    http:Nwebmd.comlcontent~articlel6 117 1449. htm.

Curtis, C.S. and S. Misner. 2006. The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Department of Nutritional Sciences.
Document located at http://ag.arizona.edu/pubs/health/foodsafety/az1079.html
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