The more we know about how conventional food is grown and processed, the more we are turning to organics to avoid eating food saturated with pesticides, herbicides, hormones, and antibiotics. While the booming organics industry means that it’s easier to find organically grown food in grocery stores, it can be confusing to know what’s behind all the different labels and companies. Are all these companies upholding the integrity of the organic label? Are we getting the unadulterated food we think we’re paying for? If we’re looking to reduce our food footprint, what choices are best? Let’s take a look at what’s behind food grown and sold with the FDA certified organic label.
1. Organically grown food is much more sustainable for the planet, and I believe much better for our health. Even though there is debate over the health benefits of eating organic food over conventional, the fact that we are putting fewer toxins into the earth is already a huge step in reducing health issues due to poisons in the environment.
2. Organic food by definition can’t contain genetically modified ingredients. Many GMO crops are doused with massive amounts of pesticides, and the impact of eating food created by gene splicing on human health has not been tested. In other words, when we eat genetically modified organisms, we are the guinea pigs of the bio-tech industry. And so far, all efforts to label food that contain GMO’s have been defeated by millions of dollars spent by the bio-tech and food industry.
3. Organic farms use far less petroleum to grow their crops than conventional farms.
4. Organic farm workers aren’t exposed to the corrosive effects of pesticides.
5. Many small organic farms truly follow sustainable practices that are beneficial to our health and environment.
The not so good:
1. The huge demand for organic food has given rise to gigantic farms that grow only one crop on their fields. This is not a sustainable method; healthy soil needs crop rotation and bees need a variety of crops to thrive and pollinate through the seasons. Small organic farms that use a more sustainable system are often crowded out of the market because they are unable to produce the volume needed year round by grocery stores and restaurants.
2. Many of the big organic meat, eggs, and dairy farms are not so different from the conventional factory farms (CAFOS). While they are better than the CAFOs because the animals’ feed is free of GMOs or pesticides, hormones or antibiotics, they are still confined in dirty crowded warehouses and the waste from these huge facilities cause pollution. When we buy organic free range eggs, we envision chickens running around a field scratching out their natural diet. The truth is, the guidelines are so loose that most of these chickens that live in vast warehouses never see the light of day.
3. Large organic farms that provide the US with out of season crops often use unsustainable practices to keep up with the demand. For instance, most people who like to eat tomatoes all through the winter may not realize that those imported tomatoes from Mexico are depleting the water table in the desert environment of the Baja peninsula.
4. Processed organic foods are allowed to contain certain non-organic ingredients like carrageenan, xantham gum, and many others.
5. Processed organic food is highly refined and often loaded with a lot of sugar. Because it’s labeled organic, people assume it’s healthy and so many kids are getting huge doses of sugar and vegetable oils in their snacks. There is also lots of packaging waste that goes along with processed food, organic or conventional.
6. Processed organic food is often very expensive and out of reach of many consumers. It can then put a stigma on all organically grown food as being expensive. But if we avoid highly processed food and buy produce, eggs, meats, and unprocessed food in bulk, organic and sustainably grown food can be reasonable. In addition, if we take our health into consideration, paying more for unadulterated food just makes sense–good health is priceless.
1. Because organic food is in high demand, many of the popular organic companies have been bought out by huge food corporations like General Mills, Heinz, Kelloggs, etc. Our whole food system is in the hands of about fifteen corporations that dictate what is on our grocery shelves. For these companies, organic food is big business and all about profit, not necessarily what’s good for the planet or for our health.
2. Because big profits are the main motivation for these corporations, they are finding ways to try to dilute the FDA’s organic guidelines to lower their costs.
3. One of the most insidious ways these mega corporations are undermining a healthy food system is by the way they are spending millions to suppress regulations to label GMO ingredients in conventionally grown food. For instance, California proposition 37, the initiative to label genetically modified food, was defeated by these top corporations that spent millions to make sure to keep consumers in the dark about what they are eating. While organics by definition can’t contain GMOs, their parent mega-corporations contributed to defeating truth in labeling for consumers. So when we buy from organic companies like Cascadian Farms (owned by General Mills), our money is actually supporting the very corporations that are trying to hide what’s in the food we buy, all in the interest of their profits.
4. Small organic farmers can’t compete with the larger more industrialized organic farms and are losing out in being distributed in the larger commercial markets.
5. Farm workers hired by the huge organic farms, though not exposed to pesticides, still are being exploited by low wages and poor living conditions.
6. Organic food imported from outside of the US doesn’t have much oversight. There are growing concerns about the integrity of imported organics, especially food from China.
Steps we can take to make thoughtful choices:
1. Support our local farms that use sustainable growing practices. Many of these small farms can’t afford the organic certification fees, but their farming techniques are much more in tune with the environment by rotating their crops, letting their animals graze and fertilize the land in a closed loop system that is the most sustainable system possible. If we have any questions about the way food is grown, we can ask the farmer about his practices. If it’s hard to buy directly from the farmer, patronize stores that buy locally grown and produced food. Find your local farms through the links provided below in #7.
2. Avoid buying organics at big box stores like Wal-Mart. The food may be cheaper in the short run, but in the long term, when we pay a fair price for locally sourced organics and sustainably grown food, we are investing in the strength and resiliency of our communities.
3. Eat fresh food in season; can, freeze, dry, ferment food for off-season availability. Eating fresh strawberries in winter, even if they are organically grown, has a huge footprint with the petroleum needed for shipping and cooling and packaging these delicacies. This also applies to eating in restaurants—be thoughtful in the choices we order.
5. Buy organics grown and produced in the US; avoid imported organics.
6. Buy organic food in bulk to avoid unwanted ingredients and reduce packaging and cost.
8. Grow our own organic vegetables! Working with the soil and watching our seeds turn into food connects us back to the roots of our collective knowledge of being sustained by and taking care of the good earth.
Posted at Small Footprint Fridays