Organic Food

Joel T. Helfrich
Do It Green! Minnesota

According to Roots & Fruits Cooperative Produce, “Organically-grown food is produced without the use of synthetic pesticides and/or fertilizers.” No wonder more Americans purchase organic food each year! The organic movement is indeed large and growing. Michael Pollan, author of Botany of Desire, in a New York Times Magazine article titled “The Organic-Industrial Complex,” notes that “The organic movement has become a $7.7 billion business” and is “the fastest-growing category in the supermarket.”

Aided by a growing number of food recalls, mad cow disease and foot-and-mouth disease scares, as well as consumer concerns about pesticides and genetically modified ingredients, organic food has “sustained … a steady 20% a year [growth] for more than a decade.” To be implemented on 21 October 2002, the U.S.D.A. Organic standards ( should help that growth. These standards define “organic” and assure consumers that organically produced products meet consistent regulations. But what is wrong with the food that millions of Americans eat daily that comes from conventional farms? The toxic chemicals used in conventional farming not only contaminate the produce we eat but also contaminate meat and dairy animals, our soil, our water and our bodies. It is no coincidence that the increased use of artificial, chemical methods of producing our food coincides with the increased incidences of cancer within our society, particularly reproductive cancers in women.

Because organics lack environmental toxins, they are the healthy way to go. Pollan states that “Pesticide residues are omnipresent in the American food supply: the F.D.A. finds them in 30 to 40% of the food it samples. Many of them are known carcinogens, neurotoxins and endocrine disrupters – dangerous at some level of exposure.” Just because government agencies have set a standard does not mean that the standard is good enough or that it actually reflects common sense. If the government has compromised on organic standards, it is enough to show that they can compromise any standards because of the influence of large corporations and their lobbying interests. What if the “safe zone” that the government establishes is not safe for everyone, particularly children? Says Pollan, “In setting … tolerances the government has historically weighed the risk to our health against the benefit – to agriculture, that is. The tolerances also haven’t taken into account that children’s narrow diets make them especially susceptible or that the complex mixtures of chemicals to which we’re exposed heighten the dangers.”

These facts are cause for alarm. “Decades later, many… toxins remain in the soil and continue to show up in our food” and, according to Harry Leichtweis, a senior research analytical chemist at General Mills, “We still find background levels of DDT and chlordane.” Like Pollan, “common sense tells me organic is better food – better, anyway, than the kind grown with organophosphates, with antibiotics and growth hormones, with cadmium and lead and arsenic (the E.P.A. permits the use of toxic waste in fertilizers), with sewage sludge and animal feed made from ground-up bits of other animals as well as their own manure. Very likely it’s better for me and my family, and unquestionably it is better for the environment. For even if only 1 percent of the chemical pesticides sprayed by American farmers end up as residue in our food, the other 99 percent are going into the environment – which is to say, into our drinking water, into our rivers, into the air that farmers and their neighbors breathe.

By now it makes little sense to distinguish the health of the individual from that of the environment.” Although Roots & Fruits states that “To date, there is no hard scientific evidence” for the claims that “organically-produced food [is] more flavorful [and] nutritionally superior,” research supporting the benefits of organic food is now reaching the public. We should expect to see more in the future. One study, recently published on apple farming in Washington State finds that organic orchards are cheaper to maintain, more profitable and produce tastier fruit than conventional farms. A study conducted by England’s Soil Association “has found considerable evidence that organic farming increases biodiversity.” Organic farms in Britain have five times more wild plants, 50% more species, and 25% more birds than on conventional farms.

Those who promote conventional, pesticide-laden farming practices never add the hidden costs – the external production costs that establish a “true cost” for an item. Organic products and goods are cheaper, in terms of overall costs – environmental damage, human equity, energy expenditure (food often needs to be trucked thousands of miles) – particularly if they are local. Still do not think buying organic produce is affordable? Consider the information from Consumer Reports, whose researchers “analyzed USDA data on toxicity levels in thousand of produce items.” Their findings were alarming and resulted in a June 2001 Vegetarian Times article that stressed: with ten “fruits and veggies, buying ‘organic’ should be a must” (see sidebar). It may also save you money on future health care costs. As consumers, we are smart to research the items we buy, consume and promote. We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to make ethical, healthy decisions for life.


Up the Organic Food Chain

Sourced from Vegetarian Times, March 2001

Here’s a peek at a few of who owns whom:

General Mills
2000: Small Planet Foods, parent company of Muir Glen (organic tomatoes) and Cascadian Farm (frozen organic entrees)

J.M. Smucker
1994: After the Fall (organic fruit juices)
1989: Santa Cruz Organic (organic fruit juices)
1984: R.W. Knudsen Family (organic fruit juices)

H.J. Heinz
2000: 20% of Hain Celestial Group (nation’s largest organic and natural food company – includes Westbrae, Westsoy, Garden of Eden, Health Valley and Arrowhead Mills and more. In 2000 Hain merged with Celestial Seasonings, which offers a number of organic teas)
1996: Earth’s Best Organic Baby Food (later bought by Hain)

Archer Daniels Midland (ADM)
1997: Grace Cocoa (uses a percentage of organic cocoa)

1998: Seeds of Change (organic pasta and organic seeds)

Proctor & Gamble
1995: Millstone Coffee (offers some organic coffee)

Acirca, Inc.
2001 Walnut Acres (organic soups; brand name sold to Acirca by multimillionaire David Cole, who in 1999 bought and in 2000 closed the company’s original Pennsylvania headquarters)

Top 10 Most Wanted

Sourced from Vegetarian Times, June 2001

The following is an alphabetical list of the top 10 fruits and vegetables that research shows are most imperative to buy organic because they contain the highest levels of the most toxic pesticides. It comes from researchers at Consumer Reports, who analyzed USDA data on toxicity levels in thousands of produce items. (For more information see

  • Apples
  • Bell Peppers
  • Cucumbers
  • Green Beans
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Winter Squash
Organic Food

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