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Organic Diet Cuts Kids' Food Pesticide
Should You Go Organic?
Should You Go Organic?
"Organic," as a label on produce and other groceries, finally has real meaning, and a new age of agriculture has quietly begun. Organic foods usually cost moreand now consumers will know that what they are getting is really organic, if it carries the "USDA Organic" label. Farmers, too, will know exactly what they may and may not do. Farmers, processors, and packagers must earn the right to put the new government seal on their productsand must pass an inspection. Violators making false claims face substantial fines. The Organic Trade Association and farmers across the country have hailed the new system of labeling and certification.
When you see the "USDA Organic" label on foods, here's what you can safely assume:
For all foods: No irradiation.
For plant foods: The new act prohibits many pesticides, but it permits the use of others, including "botanical" pesticides and a limited number of synthetic ones. Seeds are produced under the same organic standards (there are some exceptions, but edible sprouts must come from organic seeds). Farmers are responsible for preventing any drift of pesticides, pollutants and non-organic seeds onto their land.
No genetically modified crops can be sold as organic.
No sewage sludge or fertilizers containing anything synthetic. Animal manures, green manures, and biological pest control must be used. Farmers are supposed to minimize erosion and runoff and rotate crops to maintain soil fertility.
For meats and dairy products: No growth hormones or antibiotics can be given to animals. Approved vaccines can be used.
Sick animals must receive appropriate treatment, including antibiotics, but cannot then be sold on organic markets. No animal removed from organic management can then be sold as organic; organic dairy products must come from organically managed herds.
Animal feed may not contain plastic, urea, poultry litter, manure, or parts of slaughtered animals. It can contain fish products.
Animals must have outdoor access for fresh air, freedom of movement, sunlight. They must be chosen for their adaptability to local climates and resistance to prevalent diseases and parasites. Animal welfare must be promoted, stress and pain minimized.
For processed, packaged, and combination foods: "100% organic" means just that.
"Organic" means at least 95% organic, by weight.
"Made with organic ingredients" means that at least 70% of ingredients are organic, by weight. Up to three organic ingredients may be listed on the package.
Products with less than 70% organic ingredients may not use the term on the front, but can list their organic ingredients.
Good news, other news
The organic method treats the soil, plants and animals as a living system. From the environmental and human perspective, this is a better way to grow food, albeit less efficient than conventional farming in terms of yield per acre. However, "efficiency" must also be measured in terms of the long-term environmental damage caused by industrial agriculture, and the enormous amount of energy it consumes. Organic farming produces less contamination of ground water, rivers and the soil itself. It does not require the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, does not erode and deplete the soil, does not allow the systematic abuse of animals, and does not expose farm workers to toxic substances. Contrary to popular belief, organic foods are neither more nutritious nor safer for the consumer than conventionally grown ones (see below), but organic farming is a boon for our ecological future.
But there's a downside to the USDA program. Small farmers may be unable to afford certification. And as organic foods grow in popularity, these farmers may be squeezed out or bought up by huge conglomerates such as ConAgra and Archer Daniels Midland. Agribusiness may also decide to import organic foods from Mexico and Latin America, where labor costs are cheaper. But in any event, the companies must conform to the new standards, unless they find some way to persuade the government to weaken them. In fact, consumer confidence in the label is what will make the organic market continue to grow.
Some small local growers are not happy with the new rules and say it's too expensive to get certified. If you want to buy seasonal produce from local farmers with no certification, that's perfectly okay if the produce is fresh and good. Simply ask about their methods. Grocery stores and supermarkets often buy local produce in season. Ask the produce manager how it's grown.
Progress, but not a panacea
"Organic" does not mean more nutritious. Non-organic foods are just as nutritious: You get as much beta carotene from an ordinary sweet potato as an organic one. There's no evidence that pesticide residues have been harmful to the public; they do endanger farm workers.
"Organic" is not synonymous with "healthy." Organic foods can be high in saturated fat, sugar and calories. Organic potato chips are still potato chips, and organic butter is still 100% fat. Buying organic is not a substitute for choosing healthy foods.
Organic foods can be contaminated or spoiled. Organic meats may contain Salmonella, E. coli, and other microorganisms. They must be handled just as carefully as other meats, and must be thoroughly cooked. Organic produce must be washed.
Products packaged without preservatives will spoil faster and must be refrigerated and/or used quickly.
"Natural" is not synonymous with organic. Something labeled "natural" is not necessarily organic. Anything can be called natural, which does not mean much.
Source: UC Berkeley Wellness Letter Updated
February 2003, lifestyle.msn.com/FoodandEntertaining/ExpertAdvice/Article.aspx?cp-documentid=35966>1=7112
Organic Diet Cuts Kids' Food Pesticide
The effect was "dramatic and immediate," write Chensheng "Alex" Lu, PhD, MS, and colleagues. Lu is an assistant professor in the environmental and occupational health department of Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta.
Lu's team studied malathion and chlorpyrifos, two pesticides commonly used in conventional agricultural production. Organic foods aren't treated with any synthetic pesticides. Pesticides derived from natural sources (e.g. biological pesticides) may be used in producing organically grown food, says the EPA.
The study, which was funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), recently appeared in the online edition of Environmental Health Perspectives.
Strict Standards for Safety
Pesticides are strong chemicals. According to the EPA web site, "By their very nature, most pesticides create some risk of harm. Pesticides can cause harm to humans, animals, or the environment because they are designed to kill or otherwise adversely affect living organisms. At the same time, pesticides are useful to society. Pesticides can kill potential disease-causing organisms and control insects, weeds, and other pests."
Direct exposure to the type of pesticides studied by Lu can overstimulate the nervous system, causing nausea, dizziness, and confusion. Very high exposures (such as accidents or major spills), can paralyze breathing or even be fatal, states the EPA's web site.
But foods treated with malathion and chlorpyrifos are safe to eat, according to the EPA.
The EPA has strict rules about pesticide use. Limits include the amount of pesticides that can be used in growing and processing foods and the amount of pesticide residue on foods people buy.
"Most importantly, each of these decisions must protect infants and children, whose developing bodies may be especially sensitive to pesticide exposure," states the EPA's web site.
According to the EPA web site, children are at a greater risk for some pesticides for a number of reasons. Children's internal organs are still developing and maturing, and their enzymatic, metabolic, and immune systems may provide less natural protection than those of an adult. There are "critical periods" in human development when exposure to a toxin can permanently alter the way an individual's biological system operates. Children may be exposed more to certain pesticides because often they eat different foods than adults.
For instance, children typically consume larger quantities of milk, applesauce, and orange juice per pound of body weight than do adults. Children's behaviors, such as playing on the floor or on the lawn where pesticides are commonly applied, or putting objects in their mouths, increase their chances of exposure to pesticides.
Lu's study included 23 children aged 3 to 11 in Seattle's suburbs. The kids took daily urine tests for about two weeks. The urine samples were checked for traces of the two pesticides.
The kids ate their normal diets for three days. Then, they switched to a mainly organic diet for five days. Lastly, the children resumed their normal conventional diet.
The researchers bought the organic foods at a local store. They simply chose organic versions of foods the kids typically ate.
The organic grocery list included fresh fruits and vegetables, juices, processed fruit or vegetable items (such as salsa), and wheat- or corn-based items (such as pasta, cereal, popcorn, or chips).
Organic meats and dairy products weren't provided since they aren't regularly found to contain the type of pesticides being studied, the researchers note.
Pesticide Levels Dropped
When the kids started eating the organic foods, traces of the two pesticides immediately vanished from most of their urine samples. Those pesticide levels remained undetectable until the children resumed their conventional diets, the study shows.
The researchers didn't probe or note any health problems in the kids on either diet.
The kids' parents had told the researchers that they didn't use pesticides in their homes. That suggests that the children were "exclusively" exposed to the pesticides from food, write Lu and colleagues.
Lowering Pesticide Exposure
The EPA offers these tips to reduce consumption of pesticides on foods:
Wash and scrub all fresh fruits and vegetables under running water.
Soaking produce isn't the same. It doesn't have the abrasive effect of running water.
Peel fruits and vegetables, when possible.
Discard the outer leaves of leafy vegetables.
Trim fat from meat and skin from poultry. Some pesticide residues collect in fat.
Eat a variety of foods from a variety of sources. Doing so will provide a better mix of nutrients and reduce the likelihood of exposure to a single pesticide.
Not all pesticide residues can be removed by washing.
Washing produce (including fresh organic fruits and vegetables) will also help reduce dirt and bacteria. Don't use detergent or soaps to wash produce, notes the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Sources: Miranda Hitti, Lu, C. Environmental Health Perspectives, online edition, Sept. 1, 2005. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: "Organophosphate Pesticide Information: Malathion Risk Assessment 2000 Summary." U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: "Organophosphate Pesticide Information: Chlorpyrifos Summary." U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: "Organophosphate Pesticide Information: Chlorpyrifos Revised Risk Assessment and Risk Mitigation Measures." U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: "Pesticides and Food: How the Government Regulates Pesticides." U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: "Pesticides and Food: Healthy, Sensible Food Practices." U.S. Department of Agriculture: "Fact Sheets: Safe Food Handling -- Does Washing Food Promote Food Safety?" News release, Emory University. my.webmd.com/content/Article/112/110568.htm?printing=true