To Be or Not To Be: Why Go Organic?

Written by Lydia Benedict.

One day I was standing on the grocery isle reading the ingredients list on a box of crackers.  A stranger approached and proceeded to tell me that organic food isn’t any different than conventional food.  She said that organics are a hoax.  When I asked her how she knew that, she said she had heard it on TV.
I hate to sound like your mother, but you can’t believe everything you hear on television.  Of course, that’s not to say that organics are perfect.   Unfortunately, compromises are sometimes made even under the organic label.  And just because chicken, beef, or pork may be certified organic doesn’t guarantee that they haven’t come from a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO).  Indeed, there are some national brand name organics that raise their cows (or other animals) in the organic equivalent of a conventional feedlot.  In such instances, the meat or poultry meets the organic requirements prohibiting pesticides and antibiotics.  But that doesn’t mean that the cow, pig or chicken lived in its natural habitat, grazing or eating insects.
Still, the standards for organic certification are higher than the conventional.  Moreover, by doing a little homework, individuals can be selective even within organics to better insure healthy choices.  The bottom line is that organics, despite their imperfections, are a good place to start when it comes to food.
Here are my top reasons for going organic:
Detoxify. From car exhaust to paint fumes, our world throws enough toxicity at us without our adding to it.  Do your body a favor and choose fruits and vegetables that are free of pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
Refuse to be a guinea pig. Unless you’re growing your own food or buying from local farmers, certified organic is probably the best way to insure that you aren’t eating genetically modified (GM) food.  Because the FDA doesn’t require labeling of GM foods, consumers have no way of knowing if the food they purchase at the supermarket contains GMOs (Genetically Modified Organism).  Since 60-70% of processed foods contain GM ingredients (such as corn syrup), it is likely that most Americans are consuming more than the recommended daily allowance of GMOs.  For example, 94% of soybeans grown in the U.S. are genetically modified – and these days soy is in everything from mayonnaise to canned tuna to baby formula.   Of course, the FDA claims that there is no difference between GM or non-GM foods.  Bologna!  (FYI: bologna contains soy, too.) But it will likely be decades before scientists complete the research on this question.  Meantime, consumers will be the test group.

CAFO raised pigs


Don’t do drugs. It’s no secret that antibiotics are overused in this country.  But did you know that 70% of the antibiotics distributed in the U.S. are fed to livestock.  Conventionally raised livestock live in such sickening conditions that antibiotics are required just to keep them alive long enough to pass FDA inspection before going to slaughter.  If you’re one of those people who decline an antibiotic prescription from the doc, then you may also want to avoid the meat and poultry section at the supermarket.
Use bug repellent. I’m not referring to mosquitoes and a can of OFF!, but rather superbugs—the kind that develop with overuse of antibiotics.  Again, big feed lots are the breeding grounds for antibiotic resistant bacteria and the rise of these bugs is frightening.  Buy organic and help slow the rising growth of superbugs.
Don’t drink the water. Conventional farming relies on millions of tons of chemical fertilizers.  When it rains, the excess fertilizer washes into nearby rivers.  In the Midwest, for example, it washes into the Mississippi River, ultimately dumping into the Gulf of Mexico where it kills fish and other ocean life.  As a result, the Gulf of Mexico already has a dead zone the size of New Jersey.

Gulf of Mexico: Dead Zone


Getting back to the lady in the grocery store warning me about organics, I couldn’t help noticing the over-sized plastic tub of cheese puffs in her cart.  Needless to say, I didn’t take her advice.