Is it free of Pesticides and artificial fertilizers?

Should You Buy Organic Food?

By —— Bio and Archives--September 16, 2007

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“Do you ever buy organic food?” I asked my wife. She quickly answered, “No”. Then I asked, “Why do some people buy it?” She replied what most people say, “Because it’s free of pesticides”. But is this true? And with increasing food prices is it prudent to spend hard-earned dollars on organic farm products?


A report in the “Nutrition Action Health Letter” provides much more insight about organic foods. It states that a Neilsen study showed 34 percent of Canadians purchased organic foods to avoid pesticides and artificial fertilizers. Others in the study believed that these products were more nutritious than conventional foods.

The problem is there is little data on the risks associated with eating fruits and vegetables that contain pesticide residues. For instance, this morning I had a fresh peach with bran cereal, a breakfast I’ve always considered to be a healthy one. But then I discovered Nutrition Action’s list of the top “dirty dozen” fruits and vegetables that contain pesticide residues.

Peaches were at the top of the list. So much for my knowledge of a healthy fruit! It’s highly unlikely that this small amount of pesticide is going to kill me. But the big question mark is, will it cause me any harm? No one really knows.

If I were concerned about peaches I could add strawberries to the cereal which are less contaminated, but still on the dirty dozen list. Onions are 100 X less contaminated, but I’d rather die than put onions on my breakfast cereal.

So how pesticide-free are organic foods? Studies show that 25 percent of organic food is also contaminated. After all, there’s no intercontinental missile shield protecting the soil of an organic farm from pesticides carried by the wind. Moreover, pesticides banned years ago may still be in the soil and can contaminate both organic and conventional food.

But are organic foods less likely to carry infectious disease? Paul Duchesne, a spokesperson for Health Canada says, “We don’t have any information on the relative risk of organic versus conventional grown food from the point of view of microbial contamination.”

In an article in 2006 I reported how spinach from California had been contaminated with the germ E. coli 0157:H7. This killed four people in the U.S.

At that time the farm in California was switching from conventional to organic agriculture and the spinach had been grown by organic techniques. Investigators discovered E. coli in river water and in the feces of cattle located two kilometers from where the spinach was grown. They never determined how the germ was transported from that location to the farm. But ground water is highly suspect.

What about the beef you’re eating for dinner? Is this less likely to be contaminated if the cows are organically raised? Again, there’s no good evidence that these and other animals are less likely to be free of germs. How do you stop birds and insects from carrying disease to them? Contaminated water is also becoming more and more difficult to

Organically raised animals may even be more susceptible to environmental contaminants. Dioxins and PCBs are spread by air and water so they have the same chance of settling on either conventional or organic land. But animals on organic farms spend more time in pastures eating hay which contains twice the amount of dioxins than corn eaten by conventionally fed animals.

Can you believe food labels that say it’s organic? Canadian and U.S. experts admit that mislabeling does occur, but claim in general there’s very little fraud. But it won’t be until December 2008 that Canada will have an agency to assure consumers that when they buy “organic”, it’s truly organic.

Surely organic must be more nutritious. Some studies show organic food contains more vitamin C. But a report from Mayo Clinic says there’s no good evidence that organic food provides more bang for the buck.

There is some good news, however. Organic agriculture uses 30 percent less fossil fuel than conventional agriculture and may help to save our planet.

My wife has one answer to this problem. She says, “I’ve lived a long time without organic foods so why should I change now?” At the moment I don’t have enough positive facts to change her skeptical mind.


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Dr. Gifford Jones -- Bio and Archives | Comments

W. Gifford-Jones M.D is the pen name of Dr. Ken Walker graduate of Harvard. Dr. Walker’s website is: Docgiff.com

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