Friday, April 1, 2011

The Organic Debate

The organic food business in the United States has grown from a $1 billion industry in 1990 to a $24.8 billion in 2009. The majority of you (75%) said that you bought organic foods at least occasionally in last week’s poll. While there is a strong growing interest in organic foods, the organic food market makes up only 3% of total food sales. Many members of the general public are uncertain about purchasing organic foods.

First, what qualifies as an organic food? Foods labeled with an USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Organic seal must be inspected by a government-approved certifier. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are not given antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic plant foods are produced without use of most conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge, bioengineering or ionizing radiation.

When deciding whether or not to purchase organic foods, consumers report cost, health, and environmental concerns as factors in their purchase. Many organic foods are sold at a higher cost due to the lower demand and more labor intensive production practices. Some organic foods when sold in-season can be found at prices comparable to conventional foods. Recent studies have found no evidence in nutrient quality between organic and conventional foods. Research indicates that there may be some benefits to going organic. The use of antibiotics in livestock has been under scrutiny for possibly contributing to antibiotic resistance, making bacterial infections/illnesses in humans harder to treat.

While research on the potential benefits of organic foods is still ongoing, the choice whether or not to buy organic is a personal choice with many factors. For people concerned about produce absorbing pesticides the “dirty dozen” and “clean 15”, found here, can be useful guides to determine what to buy organic.

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