We have choices when we shop for food. Moreover, we want to make the best choices for ourselves and our families but the question remains: are we? In this article, I’m going to answer the question: Which Produce Should You Buy Organically & Why?
It’s a matter of fact, the organic sector of the food world is growing faster than any other in the food sector. Why is that? Is it hype, marketing or are there some cold, hard facts that stand behind the reason for the growth? There’s one thing for sure, I want to help you make better choices for you and your family when it comes to purchasing produce. Which ones should you spend the extra cash on for organic? Which ones can you save cash on and buy in the conventional section of the produce department.
What is the Definition of Organic?
First, let’s start with the definition of ‘organic’.
‘Organic’ is a designation used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It certifies that the food is grown without synthetic chemicals, fertilizers or sewage sludge. Genetic engineering (GMOs) and radiation are also prohibited.
A farm must get certification from the U.S.D.A to be able to display the organic seal on their produce.
Science Tells Us Why to Eat Organic Produce
The words that are most scary to me in this definition are: radiation and genetic engineering.
The question is: does this mean that conventional growers can radiate our food? Yes, I am afraid that it does.
Radiation extends shelf life. According to North Carolina State University’s Department of Food Science:
‘There are three types of ionizing radiation that can potentially be used in food irradiation: electron beams (machine generated), X-rays – (machine generated), and gamma rays (occur naturally from radioactive decay of Cesium 137 or Cobalt 60). Cobalt-60 is most commonly used for food irradiation, though electron beam is finding increasing application.
The USDA claims that food irradiation is safe. Hhmmm… The longest human feeding study was 15 weeks, according to organicconsumers.org.
Further, Organic Consumer Association noted:
‘Studies on animals fed irradiated foods have shown increased tumors, reproductive failures and kidney damage. Some possible causes are: irradiation-induced vitamin deficiencies, the inactivity of enzymes in the food, DNA damage, and toxic radiolytic products in the food.’
According to the Center for Food Safety:
Irradiated foods can lose from 2-95% of their vitamins.
‘Irradiation can destroy up to 80% of the vitamin A in eggs, up to 95% of the vitamin A and lutein in green beans, up to 50% of the vitamin A and lutein in broccoli, and 40% of the beta-carotene in orange juice. Irradiation also doubles the amount of trans fats in beef.’
Here are a couple of other scary facts:
According to the Institute for Responsible Technology:
The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) urges doctors to prescribe non-GMO diets for all patients. They cite animal studies showing organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, accelerated aging, and infertility.
The incidence of allergy gone up since 1996 when GMOs arrived on the farming scene. Not only that, chronic illness has increased as well.
Here are a couple of other things that I was able to find out during my research:
In October 2007, The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine’ conducted a study. The study’s goal was:
‘To investigate the associations between Parkinson’s disease and other degenerative parkinsonian syndromes and environmental factors in five European countries.’
The conclusion of the study determined:
‘The association of pesticide exposure with Parkinson’s disease suggests a causative role’
In several studies, the National Cancer Institute has linked a common weed killer called 2,4-D to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Farmers are prone to certain cancers, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
DDE is a metobolite of the pesticide, DDT. The National Cancer Institute found a link between breast cancer and elevated levels of DDE in women’s fat tissue. The link is not yet proven. That said, women with the highest exposure had four times greater risk of breast cancer. Pretty scary stuff….
A lot of this is ‘old science’; we have known about these dangers for some time. So, the next question is:
Do these chemicals hang around in our bodies?
Yes, unfortunately, they do…. In a 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study. The ‘National Bio-Monitoring Program’ tested more than 5000 Americans, age 6 and older. That study detected pesticides in the blood and urine samples from 95.6 % of the people! Yikes!
Which Produce Should You Buy Organically
So which produce is the best and worst for pesticide load?
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a list called:
‘The Dirty Dozen’.
It’s a simple list of vegetables and fruits that are highest in pesticide load. The Environmental Working Group analyzed data collected from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well as, the FDA. This list is a compilation of their findings. The produce lists from the most pesticide-laden produce to the least pesticide-laden. So as you can see, strawberries have the highest pesticide load according to their findings.
The Dirty Dozen
- Sweet Bell Peppers
The Environmental Working Group provides a full list of the 48 most pesticide-laden produce on their website; you can check it out here.
My personal standard is to only buy organic produce. That said, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) does provide a list called:
‘The Clean 15’.
This is their 2017 list of produce that has the least pesticide load.
The Clean 15
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet Peas (Frozen)
- Honeydew Melon
You can view the list in its entirety, here.
You will notice sweet corn on the list…. According to the USDA, the adoption of ‘herbicide tolerant’ (GMO) corn reached 89% in 2016. Some of the research I studied to write this article said that only 3 – 4% of sweet corn is GMO. That said, other articles said that it’s creeping in.
In perusing EWG’s website, I came across the below information that I thought should share with you.
Based on figures from the USDA and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EWG calculates that every year, American farmers apply around 300 million pounds of the active ingredients in pesticides to their cornfields (USDA 2012b).
Because the thick husk protects corn kernels from pesticide applications, few pesticides show up as contaminants on kernels that would be eaten by people and animals. In USDA tests in 2008, 2009 and 2010, neither fresh nor frozen sweet corn tested positive for significant numbers of pesticide residues (USDA2009, 2011b, 2012c). In 2010, USDA scientists found no pesticides at all on 99 percent of sweet corn samples (USDA 2012c). They tested field corn in 2007 and 2008 and found minimal pesticide residues (USDA 2009, 2010).
Even though pesticides don’t show up in your frozen corn or corn on the cob, they can still present serious threats to people and other living things. The most common pesticide used on corn is Monsanto’s Roundup, whose chemical name is glyphosate. American farmers used on Roundup on two-thirds of U.S. corn acres in 2010, according to the USDA (USDA 2011c).
Should we feel safer after reading those paragraphs? One of the most toxic pesticides is glyphosate which is the predominate ingredient in Roundup.
In an email I received from the Organic Consumer Association, at the time of this writing, February 6, 2018, said:
Vermonters are, literally, swimming in a toxic soup of glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller), atrazine, 2,4-D and other pesticides.
The use of glyphosate alone—just on Vermont dairy farms—jumped 27 percent between 2014 – 2017, according to new data released last month by Vermont’s Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets.
Reporting on the data, Michael Colby, co-founder of Regeneration Vermont, wrote:
GMO corn is now grown on more than 92,000 acres in Vermont, making it – by far – the state’s number one crop. And all of it is being grown for the state’s 135,000 cows, mostly now confined as the large, mega-dairy model increasingly takes over, seen most dramatically in Franklin and Addison counties, where “farms” are now warehousing thousands of cows.
According to Colby, the “toxic stew” of pesticides polluting Vermont’s waterways includes 34 different products. In 2016, the most heavily used was glyphosate—62,458 pounds. That’s more than double the amount used in 2014.
I do not eat grain because of its inflammatory properties so corn is NOT on my grocery list. If you choose to eat corn, you may want to consider purchashing it organically even though it’s on the ‘Clean 15’.
Hawaiian Papaya has been GMO since 1998. The Hawaii Department of Agriculture began funding research into GE papaya in 1985. The papaya ringspot virus, a detrimental plant disease, affected every plant growing region. By the late 1990’s, production had dropped by 50%. The genetic modification made the papaya
resistant to the disease.
Final Thoughts on Which Produce Should You Buy Organically & Why
As I said earlier in this article, I choose to buy organic produce.
There are no long term human studies on the effects of genetic modification. We do know the effects of pesticides on the human genome.
I prefer to be safe than sorry when purchasing produce.
My theory is that you can spend your money on real food now or pay it to your doctor later.
To learn how to identify organics through food labeling, take a look at my article:
Organic? Non-GMO? Figuring Out Food Labels – What Do They Mean?