Is organic food better?
I buy organic products, but inconsistently. I buy organic milk, but not organic yogurt or butter. I track the Dirty Dozen, but balk at the cost of organic strawberries, and how fast they rot. It’s fair to ask how do organic foods, a palmy 46-billion-dollar industry, actually benefit us?
Good Earth policy?
Pouring less chemicals into the soil and water is a good thing. But massive imports of organic produce from overseas creates pollution. It makes equally good sense to buy local produce, and reduce food waste.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states organic food doesn’t provide “any meaningful nutritional benefits or deficits” over conventionally grown foods. An apple is an apple is an apple. With or without the organic wink, potato chips will – always and above all – be a junk food.
Organic foods significantly reduce our pesticide, herbicide and other chemical exposure but don’t eliminate them. A product is organic if it contains at least 95 percent organically grown ingredients.
The agricultural chemical impact on human health is complicated. For example, in the U.S., most antimicrobial agents given to food animals are for “non-therapeutic use,” that is, to “promote growth and increase yield,” not to treat an existing infection. This practice promotes drug-resistant organisms, a realistic concern for the farming community and a potential risk for the food chain that reaches our dinner table.
Less of a concern are growth hormones (GH) and steroids. Bovine GH is species-specific and not active in humans. Steroids are used at a negligible dose.
Cancer risk reduction?
For the past 10 years, total new cases of cancer in the U.S. have decreased steadily – thanks to decreased smoking rates. Still, based on 2013-2015 National Cancer Institute data, 38 percent of us will be diagnosed with cancer sometime in our life.
And for the few cancers on the rise, research points the finger at three potential causes. Rising obesity (increased death rates for endometrial, pancreatic and liver cancer), Hepatitis C infection (increased rate of liver cancer); human papillomavirus (HPV) infection (increased rate of cancers of the mouth and throat). Organic food cannot touch this list.
To reduce cancer risk, I recommend the following simple, concrete measures. Do recommended cancer screening. Quit smoking. Avoid sun exposure and indoor tanning. Moderate alcohol intake.
What might work? HPV vaccines. For Baby Boomers, a one-time Hepatitis C screen. Weight loss (who’s currently not on a diet or thinking of starting one?). Eating healthfully.
So, if the price of organic strawberries gives pause, pause the organic labeling. It’s much more important to eat a lot and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
Will I continue to buy organic, inconsistently? Heck yeah. All because I’m socially responsible, environmentally conscientious – and exceptionally lazy. Instead of joining the Bay Village Green Team's creek cleanups, I plan to eat my way to a utopic local economy, sustainable farming, ethical animal husbandry, fair trade – and world peace.
So, if you’ll excuse me, I have some shopping to do.