The Tale of two Carrots
Have you been to the produce aisle of the grocery store lately? You may not have realized it, but there’s a war going on! The two sides lines up and battle for your money: organic versus conventional carrots (and bananas, spinach, berries, basil, apples, celery, you name it). Why? What’s all the controversy about? Isn’t a carrot a CARROT? And most importantly, why would I pay more for an organic carrot with my meager college dining dollars? Understanding the controversy between the value of organic and conventional food will equip the green nursing student with the knowledge of what is best for their well-being.
Just what does “Organic” mean? Here’s what the USDA has to say about organic foods:
“Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.” http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/Consumers/brochure.html
That definition alone provides insight into important reasons why consumers buy organic food:
- to reduce pesticide build-up
- to avoid consuming growth hormone and antibiotics second-hand
- to promote the cleaner environmental practices of organic farming.
Pesticides have been linked to ADHD, lower IQ, learning disabilities and certain cancers. (See http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/food/risks.htm.) To see what pesticides are on the foods you eat, check out http://www.whatsonmyfood.org/index.jsp . For budget conscious students, there is a list of fruits and veggies with higher average levels of pesticide residue called the “Dirty Dozen.” See Dr Sanjay Gupta pointing out the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” in the produce section of the market at http://www.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/health/2010/05/31/gupta.produce.pesticides.cnn.html
Synthetic Bovine Growth Hormone (rBST and rBGH) in milk and dairy products is a hotly debated topic in the US. It is a banned substance in Europe, Canada, Japan, Israel, Australia and New Zealand where it has been found to be a health hazard to animals. Studies on the effects on humans drinking milk from cows that have been given the hormone appear inconclusive; however, producers have listened to consumer concern and begun carrying lines of rBST- free products.
The effects of large scale commercial farming are well documented: greatest source of greenhouse gas emissions, continued deforestation in the tropics, 171 tons of synthetic fertilizer runoff creating dead-zones in river mouths where algal blooms deplete the oxygen in the surrounding waters (see http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/hazards/hab/ for more info), and more. Consumers have begun supporting organic farmers in response to the environmental crises brought on by conventional farming. Farming techniques that involve less pesticides and synthetic fertilizer produce cleaner crops that provide the nutrients necessary for developmental health of people, especially young children.
The title “Organic” isn’t given out to just any produce; it is earned under the scrutiny of USDA regulations and inspections. You be the judge: have we let profit margins and convenience help us turn a blind eye towards the health concerns and environmental impact of conventional foods?