Maybe a friend has recently told you that you should start buying more organic food. Maybe you are that friend. Regardless, when people think about organic food, they often think about it in very simplistic terms. That is, I should buy more organic food because organic food is better for me. Actually, that’s just a small part of it.
When you buy organic food, you support organic farming. The more people buy organic, the more organic farmers there are. That doesn’t just mean the more healthy people there are from a dietary perspective. If more food is grown organically, less chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers are used globally. Fewer pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers mean less runoff of these products into streams, rivers, lakes, oceans and watersheds. That means all the various life forms that live in and/or feed from water are healthier. Our entire planet is healthier.
Decades ago there were big news stories and class-action lawsuits involving companies who had knowingly dumped toxic chemicals into streams and rivers or tried to bury toxic sludge or other toxic material. They were found out by whistleblowers or by subsequent years of unexplained increases of certain cancers and other serious illnesses or birth defects in their areas of operation.
We don’t hear about these types of blatant or shamelessly ignorant wrongdoings anymore thanks to the EPA and other governmental and non-governmental watchdog groups. However farmers, are legally allowed to use all sorts of toxic* chemicals in the growing process to boost yield, prevent insect infestations, etc. Any and all chemicals applied to a crop are not absorbed by just the plants for which they were intended. For example, if a chemical is applied by aerial spraying, it is at the mercy of the wind and can affect the ozone depending on the specific characteristics of the chemical. Any chemical that is applied to plants will be on and/or in the ground and will make its way into our streams, rivers and lakes. That applies to chemicals you or I might use in our yard or garden, not just the thousands of acres of farmland managed by large, faceless corporations.
Tyrone Hayes, professor of Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley has been doing some incredibly compelling research on the effects of agricultural chemicals on amphibians, specifically the herbicide Atrazine. Atrazine has been banned in the European Union for several years, but is still widely used in U.S. agriculture, primarily on cornfields. It’s estimated 80 million pounds are applied to U.S. soil annually. Studies show atrazine chemically castrates frogs and it’s associated with breast and prostrate cancer in humans. LINK
And at the writing of this blog posting, the results of a study were released linking the pesticide chlorpyrifos to childhood developmental delays. Chlorpyrifos has been banned from use in households in the U.S. but is still commonly used as an agricultural pesticide on fruits and vegetables. (The findings of the study will be published in the May issue of the American Journal of Health.) LINK
OK, so organic is better–not just for us, but for the world, including all living creatures. But organic is expensive. Agreed. Contrary to some reports, I have found that eating organic nearly always costs more—sometimes significantly more. Depending on what you’re buying and during which season, it can be cents more or as much as double. If you can’t afford or choose not to buy all organic, try to buy organic where it matters most.
Most healthcare professionals and healthy eating advocates agree that the meat and meat by-products you eat (such as milk, butter, cheese) should be organic. As for fruits and vegetables, get familiar with the “Worst 10,” “Dirty Dozen” lists that have been published. (The only thing on my refrigerator is “The Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides” by the Environmental Working Group. LINK
Use these lists when making choices. You’ll be doing a lot to improve your health and the health of your family, but you’ll also have the greatest impact on improving the health of the world.
So the motto should be, “Buy organic. Buy local. Think global. Impact the world.”
*The EPA as well as many of the companies who use chemical insecticides, herbicides and fertilizers will say the chemicals used are not toxic in the amounts used in specific applications. However, many inside and outside of the industry will argue that there have not been adequate studies that examine the compounded and/or cumulative effects of these chemicals.