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May 23, 2018  |  Login
Eating Green: Buying Organic Foods and Avoiding Chemicals
By Yvonne Jeffery, Liz Barclay & Michael Grosvenor

Maybe you focus on taste and convenience when you're thinking about getting supper on the table each night, but a lot more goes into your food than meets the eye.

If you ask many schoolchildren where bacon comes from, they're likely tell you "the grocery store." The process of breeding, rearing, feeding, and eventually killing pigs and other animals for food is something many of them know nothing about. And why should they? They live in towns and cities where they may never encounter anything related to farming.

But if you want to know what you're eating, you need to know what kind of farming methods get the meat you eat from the farmyard to your plate. Even a simple grilled cheese sandwich likely contains a lot more than wheat flour and milk. When eating green, you need to consider chemicals and additives along with factors such as how the chickens were raised and what went into the field of grain aside from the grain itself.

You may think it should be quite easy to explain exactly what is and isn't organic food. But it's not that straightforward. Hundreds of organizations around the world give certificates to say that products are organic, and each has slightly different criteria by which it makes its judgments.

U.S. farmers have to meet the United States Department of Agriculture's definition of organic through the National Organic Program. Basically, the program says that in growing crops and raising animals the organic way, natural substances are allowed, and synthetic substances aren't. More specifically, it means that:

  • Crops are grown without the use of most chemically based pesticides or petroleum- or sewage-based fertilizers.

  • Animals are raised without antibiotics or growth hormones.

  • Genetic engineering and ionizing radiation aren't allowed at any stage of the food-creation process.

Although organic food is produced by greener methods and shouldn't contain pesticides and other substances that can potentially be bad for your health, scientists aren't in agreement about whether organic food is safer and more nutritious than its nonorganic equivalents. In fact, the USDA is careful to point out that the National Organic Program lets consumers know what is and isn't organic; it doesn't make any claims that organic produce is better or safer for you than nonorganic produce.

What isn't disputed, however, is that conventional - and especially intensive - farming methods can be much more damaging to the environment than organic methods.

The words organic and natural aren't interchangeable. Organic products have been created (or grown) using natural methods and ingredients and haven't come into contact with chemicals. Natural, however, means simply that a product doesn't contain artificial ingredients - not that the production process has been organic. What's more, the use of the word natural isn't regulated by federal guidelines, so you're trusting the manufacturer on that one.

Avoiding Chemicals and Unnecessary Medicines

Organic farming is much friendlier for the earth and the local economy than mass production of products. Instead of using chemical-based fertilizers to create a high-yield soil, organic farming uses traditional methods of plowing the soil to break down soil compaction that can reduce water and air getting to the plants' roots, rotating the crops to prevent crop-specific diseases or pests from building up in the soil, and growing cover crops such as peas or clover that naturally add fertility to the soil in rotation with conventional crops.

Organic farming also emphasizes the use of physical, mechanical, or biological controls to handle weeds, insects, and plant diseases. You can pull weeds by hand or machine, for example, or introduce a beneficial insect to eat a harmful one (for example, ladybugs to eat aphids). If you don't use dangerous substances, you eliminate the risk of their running into nearby rivers, streams, and the water table below, affecting water quality. In turn, you're less likely to be eating any chemicals used to keep bugs at bay and the soil fertile. more



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