Shopping Organic as Part of a Bigger Picture

A recent article on AOL discussed whether buying organic was really worthwhile. It also spoke of a back lash against organic as stories come out about companies being labeled organic that really are not, and also doubts if organic means healthier. I see shopping organic as an important aspect of living sustainably for what it provides on many levels, not just the likelihood that I am getting more nutrients in my food. Buying organic is an important choice in speaking out about what real, clean food is and how commercial agriculture, and the food coming from it, is creating more and more problems relating to health and the environment. In my opinion we should be calling for stricter labeling so that when we see organic or non-GMO we can rest assured that this is what we are really getting.

When you shop locally at farmers markets you can ask your farmer what they use on their crops. Often family farms don’t use chemicals because they do not want to expose themselves, their family and their community to the toxic chemicals involved in conventional farming, and they are committed to providing the public chemical free produce. Often produce at a farmers market may not be labeled organic because of the red tape and added expense for certification but if you ask you may find that the produce is not sprayed, or rarely sprayed compared to conventional produce. Getting to know who is growing the food that you put in your body gives you the opportunity to make choices for your health, and the health of the environment.

The debate should not be just about whether the food has a higher nutritional value, but what is in it as a result of chemical use. Just one example is the chemical herbicide atrazine, which is commonly used on corn and other crops. This herbicide has been banned in Switzerland, the home country of its maker Syngenta, and was banned in the EU in 2004 because of its persistent groundwater contamination. Both Germany and Italy banned its use in 1990 and their crops have not suffered, one of Syngenta’s arguments for its continued use. Here is a link to a report published by the Land Stewardship Project about Syngenta and atrazine if you would like to learn more, Section 4 -The Impact of Syngenta’s Atrazine on our Health and Environment, What the Syngenta Corporation Doesn’t Want You to Know about Atrazine may shock you.

I recently was in Hawaii and driving by fields of corn on Kauai I saw that Syngenta’s presence was quite strong. I was so upset to learn about what was being grown on the island paradise. But back to the issue of chemicals. Over 76 million pounds of atrazine is used annually in the US and it is one of the most commonly detected pesticides in US ground water and also rainwater. Many scientists continue to warn about the health and environmental hazards of atrazine. This herbicide is a known “endocrine disruptor” which means that it changes the hormone activity in both humans and animals, and it has been linked to cancers, birth defects and low sperm levels in men (in fact in male frogs the herbicide actually turns testosterone into estrogen literally castrating them), yet it is allowed to be used in the US. You can read more about it here. Atrazine is only one of many herbicides commonly used, not to mention pesticides and fungicides also allowed in commercial agriculture. By choosing organic you not only don’t put these harmful chemicals in your body, but you also support farmers who don’t use them and support a cleaner environment and water supply.

Another good reason to shop organic is to avoid genetically modified food. Since there is no requirement to label products that contain GMO’s, which I believe there should be, the only way to be sure that you are not eating them is to shop organic or products labeled non-GMO. The non-GMO Project is a great resource to learn more. There is a lot of controversy around food that has been genetically modified but one of the most popular reasons for modifying seeds is to produce a plant that is resistant to the application of chemicals used to kill pests whether they are insects or weeds, so what often happens is even more chemicals are used on GMO’s since they have been modified to withstand the onslaught of chemicals and of course these chemicals wind up in your mouth and in the environment.

What is now happening is the chemical companies producing the herbicides and pesticides are creating the seeds that are used to grow our food. Plus many of these same companies also have connections to pharmaceutical companies, so once you get sick from the food they are producing they have the medicine to supposedly make you better…sort of a scary scenario in my opinion, especially since clean, natural food helps to keep us healthy in the first place. Herbicide resistant plants account for 80% of GE crops now being grown and the second most common crops that have been engineered produce their own pesticide. I don’t know about you but there is something creepy about eating something that has been genetically changed to produce a pesticide…that means that what I am eating has made its own pesticide. If this is all a bit alarming to you you will find a non-GMO shopping guide here. Buying organic or looking for a non-GMO label on the food that you buy is your best protection.

Another good reason to shop organic is to support businesses that have made a commitment to either growing or producing organic products or using only organic in their prepared food. I recently have met a number of owners and employees from such companies and they really are committed to bringing us the best sustainably produced food available. Today there are so many types of companies from Strauss Dairy, Third Street Chai and Pacific Natural Foods that are creating truly sustainable businesses beyond just giving us organic products. I will be writing more about each of these companies in the future to share with you their stories about how they have created businesses that are part of a bigger picture of sustainability and prove that it is possible to create and maintain a profitable business that really cares. Supporting such companies sends a loud message to big-agriculture and the mega-food corporations that we don’t want food that has been tampered with, that harms eco-systems and our health.

So if you hear or read that organic really isn’t any better than conventionally produced food remember there is more at issue here than just the vitamin and mineral content of food. The footprint that each bite we take (and I have not even mentioned the huge amount of petrochemicals used in conventional agriculture) leaves behind is also crucial to a sustainable future as well as our health. Keep the bigger picture in mind and you will know that shopping organic is beneficial for you, your family and the planet.