3 minute read
The word “organic” can make a wallet cringe. Glance at the prices of produce at your grocery store and you’ll quickly notice the cost of say, an organic apple, is always higher than the conventional apple. There’s also the common misconception that organic produce is good, conventional produce is bad. But this is not necessarily true. When considering which produce you should buy organic, one major factor to consider is chemical and pesticide residue.
First of all, when shopping for organic foods, the label to look for is USDA Certified Organic. “Natural” does not mean organic. Produce with the USDA Certified Organic label means that fruit or vegetable is regulated by the USDA and follows their federal guidelines.
What exactly do these guidelines require? The standards that have to be met have to do with soil quality, pest and weed control, use of additives, and animal raising practices. If the produce is grown on soil with no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest, such as fertilizers and pesticides, then the produce can be considered USDA Certified Organic.
Benefits of Eating Organic
There isn’t a significant amount of data (yet) to show the health benefits of eating organic foods versus conventional foods, due to lack of research. However, there are studies indicating possible health benefits of organic food and studies pointing towards serious, subtle, health risks by consuming pesticide residue.
There’s also data to indicate consuming the chemicals on our conventional foods might increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer, according to BreastCancer.org.
Cost of Eating Organic
Buying all produce organically can get expensive. For those of us whose budgets do not match the organic prices, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) provides two really helpful lists to use as a guide for which foods to buy organic and which foods you can buy conventional (non-organic).
These lists are based on their 2018 analysis of tests from the USDA and found that almost 70 percent of the conventional (non-organic) produce tested had pesticide residue. However, not all conventional produce across the board was found to have pesticide residue.
While some conventional produce items do have significant amounts and raise major red flags, other samples had no pesticide residue. Conventional spinach is a good example: 97 percent of the conventional spinach samples had pesticide residue. Conventional asparagus on the other hand, had very different results: 90 percent of conventional asparagus samples had no detectable pesticide residues.
Based on the EWG’s 2018 data, a large amount of these foods sampled, which they list as their “Dirty Dozen,” had pesticide residue and should be bought organically:
- Sweet bell peppers + Hot peppers
The below EWG list of foods are listed by the EWG as the “Clean Fifteen.” Meaning these conventional produce items had little, if any, pesticide residue found on the samples. So if you’re going to buy conventional produce, the EWG lists these as the ones to consider buying:
- Sweet corn*
- Sweet frozen peas
- Honey dew melons
Keep in mind, organic does not mean local – International farmers can get USDA Organic Certified if they meet the requirements. If you can participate in a local farm co-op and visit the farm, this could be an additional economical option for getting your veggies local, and possibly pesticide-free. There are different reasons why farmers do not become certified organic, one of those reasons being costs, since there are fees involved. So just because a farmer does not have that label, does not necessarily mean they are using high amounts of chemicals on their produce.
*Per the EWG, “a small amount of sweet corn, papaya and summer squash sold in the United States is produced from genetically modified seeds.”
U.S. Department of Agriculture, “Organic 101: What the USDA Organic Label Means”
Mayo Clinic, “Organic Foods: Are they safer? More nutritious?”
BreastCancer.org, “Eating Unhealthy Food”
EWG, Shopper’s Guide to Pesticide in Produce Summary 2018
EWG, “Dirty Dozen 2018”
EWG, “Clean Fifteen 2018”