Sunday, May 9, 2010

Organic Food Debate

In the last several years there has been a big push towards picking organic, free range, or bio foods as opposed to those grown with pesticides and other chemicals. Organic foods are foods that are grown with no synthetic chemicals or pesticides, farmers aren’t allowed to use bioengineered genes (GMOs) or petroleum-based fertilizers and sewage sludge-based fertilizers. Organic food must also be grown in safe soil, have no modifications and must remain separate from conventional products. Those in favor of eating organic foods argue that organic farming practices have also been shown to benefit the environment by not exposing local wildlife to the harms of synthetic pesticides, as well as sustaining diverse ecosystems through practices of crop rotation. Per unit area, organic farms use less energy and produce less waste. Organic farming also lowers the exposure risk to farmers and farm workers. Scientific studies have been made with farm workers who use pesticide and correlated a link between this usage to brain cancer, Parkinson’s disease, multiple myeloma, leukemia, lymphoma, and cancers of the stomach and prostate. A recent study has also linked low levels of pesticides in foods with later development of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).

Lastly, proponents state that going organic benefits the food consumer by limiting the amounts of chemicals consumed on a daily basis. According to the Environmental Working Group eating the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables exposes one to about 20 pesticides per day on average. Eating the 12 least contaminated foods exposes you to about 2 pesticides per day on average.
Those that are on the other side of the argument believe that the amount of pesticides found in non-organically grown foods are in relatively low levels and there isn’t enough evidence to suggest the negative effects of such small amounts. These scientists are in agreement that humans are in contact and ingest an innumerable amount of other natural chemicals that are shown to have a higher toxicity and are present at higher doses, compared to the very minute amount of pesticide residue that remains on food. In an article from Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of “Eat for Health,” animal studies establishing carcinogenic potential in synthetic chemicals are done at doses a thousand-fold higher than what is ingested in food. Any chemicals consumed in high doses become toxic and lead to some of the diseases stated earlier. Therefore, the little amounts of pesticides found on produce give us little evidence of possible disease hazards. The farmers are exposed to extremely high amounts of these chemicals, which could explain the link to the different cancers.

Needless to say, an extended period of consuming foods that have higher pesticide levels than others could potentially contribute, in the long run, into something the body might react negatively towards. Awareness of those foods that typically contain high levels of pesticides gives you the choice to avoid these foods or not. We don’t want to restrict our diet of fruits and vegetables, which are the staple of any healthy diet, but make the right choices in produce when it comes to potential risk factors. It makes common sense to peel fruits, if possible, and not to eat potato skins, unless you are able to purchase them pesticide free. Remove and discard the outermost leaves of lettuce and cabbage, if not organically grown, and other surfaces that cannot be peeled can be washed with soap and water, or a commercial vegetable wash. Washing with plain water removes 25-50 percent of the pesticide residue. If you are concerned about pesticides and chemicals, keep in mind animal products, such as dairy, fish and beef, contain the most toxic pesticide residues.

Because cows and steers eat large amounts of tainted feed, certain pesticides and dangerous chemicals are found in higher concentrations in animal foods. Dioxin, which is predominantly found in fatty meats and dairy fat, for example, is one of the most potent toxins linked to several cancers in humans, including lymphomas. By centering your diet on unrefined plant foods you will automatically reduce your exposure to the most dangerous chemicals.
The aim of this article to give you both sides of the coin with regards to eating organic foods or their alternatives. Organic foods are typically more expensive than their counterpart but by eating the organic versions of the 12 fruits and vegetables with the most amount of pesticides you can reduce your exposure by about 90 percent, see table below. In my opinion these organic foods have a better taste and are better for the environment and farmers. Your local farmers market is a good resource for finding your organic fruits and vegetables. Local foods are the freshest and are picked when ripe. Buying locally also benefits the local economy.

Rank Produce with Most Amounts of Pesticides Score
1 Strawberries 189
T2 Green and red bell peppers 155
T2 Spinach 155
4 Cherries 154
5 Peaches 150
6 Cantaloupe 142
7 Celery 129
8 Apples 124
9 Apricots 123
10 Green Beans 122
11 Grapes Imported 118
12 Cucumbers 117

Be aware that the term “natural” does not equal organic. Other labels can be deceiving and try to trick you to believe that what you are buying is organic when it is not. It is always a good idea to see where your actually organic foods come from. As mentioned above with regards to farmers markets, the organic food grown closer to home is fresher and usually has a better taste than food that is shipped in from Uruguay. Here is a great link to help keep you informed on organic farming here in Switzerland, SwissBIO, along with a few other links to your local stores Bio websites, MIGROS, BIO SWISS and COOP. In the end the choice is up to you to whether or not you choose to eat organic foods or not but the first step towards change is knowledge and awareness!

Yours In Health,

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