By Ernst Lamothe Jr.
There was a time when you would have to shop at high end, specialty grocery stores to find the organic products of your dreams.
Currently a more than $43 billion business, organic food choices are aplenty at your local grocery aisle. But more goods doesn’t mean that more people understand what they are eating.
“The science is still young and there are a lot of things that we are still unclear about,” said Nicole Klem, program director of dietetic internship at the University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions. “There are a lot of people making money out of providing organic products to customers who may not be as informed on what organic means or if they really need the product at all.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has established an organic certification program that requires all organic foods to meet strict government standards. These standards regulate how such foods are grown, handled and processed. Any product labeled as organic on the product description or packaging must be USDA certified. If it is certified, the producer may also use an official USDA Organic seal. The only exception is for producers who sell less than $5,000 a year in organic foods. These producers still must follow the guidelines for organic food production, but they do not need to go through the certification process.
“The good thing is there are very clear and tight guidelines on what is considered organic,” said Klem.
She discusses key things you need to know about organic foods.
Finding locally-grown organic foods is possible in more ways than ever before. In many communities, you can skip past the grocery store and go right to the source.
“Farmer markets are an excellent way to purchase locally-grown organic food without paying a premium price,” said Klem. “If you have a large family, it might not make sense to buy everything organic, especially when it comes to fruits and vegetables. The cost can quickly become unmanageable. You can purchase those foods in regular grocery stores, and as long as you make sure you are washing them thoroughly, you should be fine.”
Klem said she is encouraged that more farmer markets are opening up in various underserved communities in and around Buffalo and that kids are gravitating toward eating fresh fruits and vegetables.
Organic farming practices are designed to meet various goals, including enhance soil and water quality, reduce pollution, provide safe, healthy livestock habitats and promote a self-sustaining cycle of resources on a farm. The term organic refers to the way agricultural products are grown and processed. In the U.S., organic crops must be grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, genetically modified organisms or GMOs, petroleum-based fertilizers, and sewage sludge-based fertilizers.
“There is no question that any food that doesn’t have preservatives is going to be better quality. While it is going to spoil quicker, there is incredible advantages of eating fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Klem.
We are all looking at what is our golden ticket to longevity. Klem said if eating organic food is something that you want in your life then you should pursue it.
“If this is part of your lifestyle and the knowledge and pursuit of making sure you eat organic helps you feel better, then there is nothing wrong with that,” said Klem. “Eating the right food fuels your body.”
She said there is not enough research to show that eating an organic apple is far better than eating an apple grown on a conventional farm. Even in cases like milk, there are various factors that influence the quality, including seasonal changes, the cow’s genetic and the types of foods it was fed even in organic farms.
Eating non-organic food is fine
While there are various good reasons to start living a more organic life, expert say there are enough safeguards to make sure the food we are ingesting is healthy. Klem believes the most important lesson learned is that people should eat plenty of fruits and vegetables in their daily lives whether it is organic or not.
“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration have vigorous testing to test milk, meat, eggs and other produce,” said Klem. “There is a misconception that even the hint of pesticides can give you a risk for cancer and that is why people have flocked to organic food. But if you eat food from a conventional farm, you are going to be fine. You would be better off eating a tomato from a regular farm for your entire life then then not eating them because you are worried about pesticides. You should focus on making sure you are eating healthy regardless.”