"Organic Foods: Guide to Pesticides, GMOs, Food Irradiation, and "
Organic Foods: Guide to Pesticides, GMOs, Food Irradiation, and Eating Well On A Budget Organically grown produce reduces the potential health and environmental hazards posed by pesticides, GMOs, irradiation and additives. Pesticides can cause developmental delays, behavioral disorders, and motor dysfunction, and can even infect children in the womb. http://www.helpguide.org/life/organic_foods_pesticides_gmo.htm On this page: What is the difference between conventional and organic foods? | Why should I be concerned about pesticide residues in food? | What are GMOs? | What is food irradiation? | What do I need to know about mercury and other toxics in seafood? | What are the advantages of organic produce? | I'd like to buy organic, but it's hard to find where I live. What can I do? | How can I eat healthfully on a budget? | References and resources | Series contents http://www.helpguide.org/life/healthy_eating_diet.htm You've made a commitment to healthy eating, adapting the new Food Pyramid to your age, gender, fitness level and lifestyle. This is a great start! Beyond eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and good fats, however, there is the question of food purity. How foods are grown or raised can impact your health. Food labeling can leave you confused as to what terms such as "organic," "natural," "free-range," and "non-GMO" really mean. Understanding this terminology is essential to selecting foods that are the healthiest for you and your loved ones. What is the difference between conventional and organic foods? The terms "conventional" and "organic" refer to the ways in which food is grown, handled and processed. Whereas conventional farmers use synthetic or chemical means to fertilize soil, control weeds and insects, and prevent livestock disease, organic farmers opt for less invasive methods, such as manure or compost fertilizer, crop rotation and giving animals room to roam. The USDA has developed the following legal standards for the "organic" certification: For fruits, vegetables and grains: Safe soil, free of sewage sludge, lead salts and potassium chloride, among many other substances, for at least three years prior to the first organic harvest; No modification: GMOs, irradiation and additives are prohibited (see below for details); Separate storage: handlers, food processors and food manufacturers must separate organic products from non-organic products and take steps to ensure that organic foods don't come into contact with forbidden chemicals or substances. For meat, milk, eggs and other animal products: Timing: animals must be raised organically from the last third of gestation (for livestock) or no later than the second day of life (for poultry). Organic feed: livestock feed products must be 100 percent organically grown. Hormone- and antibiotic-free: sick animals must be treated—but if an animal has been treated with a prohibited medication, it can't be labeled and sold as organic. Outdoor access, including pasture land for animals that graze. Each animal must have shade, shelter, fresh air, direct sunlight and room to exercise appropriate for its species. No commingling. Organic animal products must be separated from non-organic products. Organic animal products must not come into contact with prohibited chemicals or substances. One important caveat: "natural" does not equal organic! "Natural" is an unregulated term that can be applied by anyone, and is therefore potentially misleading. While the commonly seen food labels "all natural", "free-range" or "hormone-free" signify that the food has been raised or grown humanely, only the "USDA Organic" label indicates that a food is certified organic. Why should I be concerned about pesticide residues in food? We don't tend to think about what is invisible to us, or to calculate the accumulated build-up of years of pesticide exposure in our bodies. While some sources believe the benefits of pesticides to human nutrition outweigh any potential health risks, the research suggests otherwise. When veteran journalist Bill Moyers had his blood and urine tested as part of a study of pollutant loads in the human body conducted by Mount Sinai School of Medicine, 84 distinct chemicals were found—including some that had been banned more than a quarter of a century before. This chemical "body burden," as it is medically known, is even more insidious for children, whose developing bodies and brains are more vulnerable. A 2005 Journal of the American Medical Association study reported the incidence of illness linked to pesticide use in and around U.S. schools is on the rise. Organophosphates—the same class of insecticides detected in Moyers' blood—were most frequently responsible for these poisonings, which have been linked in animal studies to: developmental delays, behavioral disorders, and motor dysfunction. Because organophosphates are persistent pesticides that remain in the environment and in the human body for many years, they can be passed from mother to child in the womb, as well as through breast milk. Some exposures can cause delayed effects on the nervous system, even years after the initial exposure. What fruits and vegetables are highest and lowest in pesticides? Highest in Pesticides These 12 popular fresh fruits and vegetables are consistently the most contaminated with pesticides—buy these organic. Apples Peaches Bell Peppers Pears Celery Potatoes Cherries Red Raspberries Grapes (imported) Spinach Nectarines Strawberries Lowest in Pesticides These 12 popular fresh fruits and vegetables consistently have the lowest levels of pesticides. Asparagus Kiwi Avocados Mangos Bananas Onions Broccoli Papaya Cauliflower Pineapples Corn (sweet) Peas (sweet) Will washing and peeling fruits and vegetables help reduce exposure to pesticides? Excerpted from Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce (Environmental Working Group) Nearly all of the data used to create these lists already considers how people typically wash and prepare produce (for example, apples are washed before testing, bananas are peeled). While washing and rinsing fresh produce may help reduce pesticide residues, it does not eliminate them. Peeling reduces exposures, but valuable nutrients often go down the drain with the peel. The best option is to eat a varied diet, wash all produce, and choose organic when possible to reduce exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. What are GMOs? Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are life forms that have been genetically engineered. Genetic engineering (GE) is the process of taking genes from one strain of a plant, animal, or virus and inserting them into another, with the goal of reproducing characteristics of the original species in the receiving species. The U.S. government first sanctioned pharmaceutical gene splicing in 1982. However, GE/GM foods didn't make their way onto supermarket shelves until 1994. Although three government agencies are involved in the GMO approval process (the USDA, EPA and FDA), there are no mandated pre-market safety studies. As with pesticides and drugs, safety testing for GMOs is done by the companies that produce them, raising concern about ethics and conflict of interest. Unintended health impacts from GMOs can include: Allergens. Because the addition of new genetic material changes protein sequences, the GMO could produce known or unknown allergens—especially in children. Nutritional deficiency. Altered DNA could decrease levels of important nutrients in the GE crop. Increased toxins. Genetic engineering could inadvertently increase naturally occurring plant toxins—or introduce a new toxic strain created by the marriage of genes. Antibiotic resistance. An antibiotic resistant gene inserted into most GM crops may pose the most serious health hazard, since there is the possibility that these genes might transfer to pathogenic bacteria in our bodies and create new, antibiotic-resistant super-diseases. What is food irradiation? Given consumer concern about food safety and the growth of food-borne illness, nearly 40 countries have approved food irradiation, a process in which foods are exposed to a controlled amount of "ionizing radiation" in order to kill harmful bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella. The process can also control insects and parasites, reduce spoilage, and inhibit ripening and sprouting. It does not make food radioactive. The FDA says, "The (irradiation) process may cause a small loss of nutrients but no more so than with other processing methods such as cooking, canning, or heat pasteurization." However, the EPA recognizes that all forms of ionizing radiation, including the cobalt-60 and cesium-137 used in food irradiation, are known carcinogens. Irradiation plant workers suffer the highest risk, but consumers are also in jeopardy. A Washington-based watchdog group, The Center for Food Safety, says the FDA has ignored growing evidence that a new class of chemicals, formed when food is irradiated, could be harmful. The new chemicals, a class of cyclobutanones, were found to cause genetic and cellular damage in human and rat cells. You may be unwittingly eating irradiated foods containing cyclobutanones. Though most irradiated food sold in stores must be labeled, there is no such requirement for restaurants, schools, hospitals, nursing homes and other institutional settings. What do I need to know about mercury and other toxics in seafood? Mercury is a highly toxic heavy metal that poses a major public health threat. Because mercury can interfere with development, pregnant women and children are most at risk. Due to the high methylmercury levels that the following species contain, the USDA warns women who are pregnant, women who might become pregnant, and children, to avoid eating: swordfish, shark, tilefish, king mackerel, and to reduce their intake of tuna. Mercury is not the only culprit to consider, however. More than 70 percent of the world's fish resources have been overfished, depleted, or mismanaged in ecologically destructive ways. By becoming an informed seafood consumer, you help your health and support seafood sustainability. When you're seafood shopping, ask where the catch of the day was caught. For example, wild, Alaskan and California salmon are all classed as "good fish": plentiful, sensibly managed, with minimal pollutants. Atlantic salmon, by contrast, is "bad"—not because of mercury levels, but because methods of capture damage habitats and kill other wildlife. Take the following seafood guide along when shopping, so you can tell at a glance whether the fish you're contemplating buying is good for you and for the environment: The California Academy of Sciences provides a mercury calculator and clip-and-carry seafood guide that lists good fish, iffy fish, and bad fish and is a handy reference to use while shopping. What are the advantages of organic produce? In addition to eliminating the potential health and environmental hazards posed by pesticides, GMOs, irradiation and additives, organically grown produce actually confers health benefits, according to new research. Organic foods are better for the body and the environment because they: Have more nutritional value. Organic foods contain higher levels of vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, iron. Contain more antioxidants. Food scientists at the University of California, Davis, found that organically grown fruits and vegetables show significantly higher levels of cancer-fighting antioxidants than conventionally grown foods. Pesticides and herbicides reduce the production of phenolics—chemicals that act as a plant's natural defense and are also good for human health. Organic fertilizers, however, appear to boost the levels of these anti-cancer compounds. Promote biodiversity. According to a study called The Biodiversity Benefits of Organic Farming, "organic farms had five times as many wild plants and 57% more species." The organic farms also had more birds, spiders, and non-pest butterflies than non-organic farms. Protect the next generation. As explained above, the effects of pesticides and other harmful additives to children are especially acute. Most children today are born with pesticide build-up in their bodies. Feeding your children organic foods and teaching them about the health benefits of organics will promote their good health and well being as well as that of generations to come. I'd like to buy organic, but it's hard to find where I live. What can I do? In some areas buying organic produce may require a little ingenuity. However, there are numerous resources available. Consider the following ideas: Ask your local grocery store manager to carry more organic produce. Look into joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm, in which individuals and families join up to purchase "shares" of produce in bulk, directly from local farms (see References and resources). Find out whether there is a natural foods co-op, also called a cooperative grocery store, in your area (see References and resources) Co-ops typically offer lower prices to members, who pay an annual fee to belong. However, you do not need to be a member to shop at a food co-op. Start a buying club. A buying club is typically comprised of at least seven families who pool their money and order food in bulk from a cooperative distributor. Buying clubs operate very similarly to CSAs, except that the former purchases food through a distributor rather than directly from the grower. Shop the Farmers' Markets. Many cities as well as small towns host a weekly Farmers' Market, where local farmers bring their wares to an open-air street market and sell fresh produce direct to you, often for less than you'd pay in the grocery store or supermarket. Bonus: it's a great opportunity to socialize and get to know like-minded people in your neighborhood who might want to join a CSA or start a buying club with you. How can I eat healthfully on a budget? CSAs, co-ops, Farmers' Markets and buying clubs are all great ways to save money on organic food. In addition, you can: buy non-perishable foods (packaged soups and non-dairy beverages, whole grains, beans, nut butters, etc.) in bulk and store them in your freezer or pantry; shop at discount stores for non-perishable items (e.g., Price Club, Costco, Sam's Club); buy the store brand, which is often less expensive than the name brand for the same quality; clip coupons for healthy foods you like and would buy anyway; make a big pot of soup at the beginning of the week or whenever you go food shopping. When you don't feel like cooking, help yourself to a hearty bowlful along with a green salad. This makes a nutritious lunch or dinner anytime. Part I of this series is filled with practical tips and suggestions to help you enjoy your meals and be healthy. Part II is filled with guides to manage your weight and help control, prevent, and heal from heart disease /stroke, cancer, diabetes and osteoporosis. See Series contents below. References and resources for food safety and affordability Organic food / pesticides PANNA: CDC study shows that most people in the U.S., including children, carry multiple pesticides in their bodies – Results of the third national CDC report measuring the impact of toxic chemicals in our bodies. (Pesticide Action Network North America) Pesticides (PDF) – Informative summary of pesticide formulations, modes of action, soil retention, and toxicity to humans. (USDA) EPA/How Pesticides Work (AU) – Clear explanation of what pesticides are, how and when they are used, and they effects they have on insects. (Department of Environment and Conservation, NSW/Australia) Organic Materials Review Institute, Consumers Union landmark study – Press release on the first detailed analysis of pesticide residue data for produce grown organically and conventionally. (OMRI) "Legal" Does Not Equal "Safe" (PDF) – The distinction between what the US EPA has established as the legal limit for pesticide residues in foods, and the real human health risks posed by these tolerance levels. (Ecologic-ipm.com) IFST Information Statement: Organic Food (UK) – In-depth explanation of organic food market and legislation, and product quality and safety. (IFST) Why "Organic" Certification Does Not Protect Consumers – A retired psychiatrist argues that pesticide residues in foods pose a negligible health concern and organic standards are overrated. (Quackwatch.org) Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) A Different Perspective on GM Food – A Salk Institute cell biologist weighs in on the potential health dangers of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). (Biotech-info.net) Genetically Engineered Foods Pose Health Risk for Children (PDF) – What's in that innocent- looking soy milk your child's drinking? Maybe some GMOs, which can cause health problems. (Saynotogmos.org) Food irradiation Food Irradiation – A Safe Measure – Why and how foods are being irradiated, and their availability to consumers. (FDA) The Dangers of Food Irradiation Facilities Worldwide (PDF) – Irradiating may protect foods and prolong shelf life, but the irradiation process itself can cause cancer. (Citizen.org) Safe seafood Mercury Contamination of Seafood – Important information on mercury levels in fish and other seafood, including a calculator that helps you determine the safety level for your weight, amount and type of seafood consumption. (California Academy of Sciences – Aquatic Biology) Buying Guide: Becoming A Smart Seafood Shopper – How to make the healthiest, safest seafood selections based on such factors as type of fish, its source and toxicity content. (Oceans Alive) Affordable healthy foods AREC Spotlight – Fresh Produce – How changes in the produce industry make it easier than ever before to fix affordable, healthy meals. (University of Arizona) Prices Report (UK) (PDF) – A senior economist compares organic food prices among supermarkets and direct sellers. (Wholesome Food Association) Growing Older, Eating Better – Offers information and suggests solutions for eating well on a budget and when cooking for one. (New York State Office for the Aging) Other resources that we used when writing this article Organically grown foods: Evaluate your options – Is organic preferable to conventional produce? Explains the distinction and how consumers can make the most informed choices. (Mayo Clinic) JAMA Study of Pesticide Risks in Schools – The level of pesticides and other chemicals affecting our children—and the resultant long-term damage they can cause—is alarming. (Pesticide Action Network North America) PBS: Trade Secrets: Chemical Body Burden – Bill Moyers' blood and urine samples revealed traces of 84 toxic chemicals—some banned for more than 25 years. (PBS) Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce (PDF) – Helpful chart ranking the 12 fruits and vegetables that are highest and lowest in pesticide residue, including a downloadable wallet-size shopping guide. (Foodnews.org) GMOs: Looking At Both Sides of the Controversy – What are GMOs, why are they used, and what are the intended impacts on the environment, health and markets? (University of Illinois) FDA Ignoring Evidence That New Chemicals Created In Irradiated Food Could Be Harmful – Press release from a government watchdog group says irradiation has been shown to cause genetic damage in animals. (The Center for Food Safety) Seafood Guide (PDF) – How to select the best seafood based on mercury content and environmental sustainability. (California Academy of Sciences) Report confirms more health benefits of organic food – Research data showing that organically grown foods contain higher levels of cancer-fighting antioxidants. (Organic Consumers Association) Community Supported Agriculture Farms Database – A searchable database of CSA farms by state. (Alternative Farming Systems Information Center/USDA) Coop Directory Service: Find A Natural Food Coop Near You – Searchable database of food cooperative distributors and information on how to start a buying club. (Coop Directory) Protecting the Next Generation (commercial site) – Includes information on the benefits of organic food for children and the danger of pesticide use. Site also includes other sections on the biodiversity and nutrition benefits of organic farming. (Organic Trade Association) FAQ on Organic Foods – Common questions and answers about organic farming and the nutrition and safety benefits of organic food. (Nutrition Australia) What are the health benefits of eating the world’s healthiest foods? – Discussion about the health benefits of eating a variety of whole, fresh foods in your diet. (World’s Healthiest Foods, George Mateljan Foundation) ORGANIC FOODS STORE LOCATORS: Georgia Alpharetta Harry's Farmers Market 1180 Upper Hembree Rd. Roswell, GA 30076 770.664.6300 678.566.1427 fax Store hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. 75,375 sq. ft. more store info Atlanta (Buckhead) Whole Foods Market 77 West Paces Ferry Rd NW Atlanta, Georgia 30305 404.324.4100 404.324.4110 fax Store hours: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. 53,017 sq. ft. more store info Atlanta Whole Foods Market 2111 Briarcliff Rd Atlanta, GA 30329 404.634.7800 404.634.0229 fax Store hours: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. 27,800 sq. ft. more store info Atlanta (Sandy Springs) Whole Foods Market 5930 Roswell Road Atlanta, GA 30328 404.236.0810 404.236.0339 fax Store hours: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Store features a Jamba Juice Bar and Allegro Coffee Bar. 39,000 sq. ft. more store info Atlanta Whole Foods Market 650 Ponce de Leon Ave NE Atlanta, GA 30308-1833 404.853.1681 404.853.1632 fax Store hours: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday–Saturday and 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday 40,000 sq. ft. more store info Duluth Whole Foods Market 5945 State Bridge Road Duluth, GA 30097 678-514-2400 678-514-2410 fax Store hours: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday–Saturday and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday 79,901 sq. ft. More store info Marietta Harry's Farmers Market 70 Powers Ferry Rd. S.E. Marietta, GA 30067 770.578.4400 770.509.8707 fax Store hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. 77,185 sq. ft. more store info Store Miles Lovejoy Station (Store #00545) 5 NW 11155 Tara Blvd Hampton, GA 30228-1672 Main: (770) 473-4779 Pharmacy: (770) 473-6886 Map Driving Directions Store Miles The Shops at Westridge (Store #01054) 5E 2158 Highway 20 W McDonough, GA 30253-7205 Main: (770) 898-6650 Fax: (770) 898-6932 Pharmacy: (770) 898-6731 Map Driving Directions Store Miles The Shops At Locust Grove (Store #01052) 6E 2730 Highway 155 Locust Grove, GA 30248-2401 Main: (770) 288-4180 Fax: (770) 288-4192 Pharmacy: (770) 288-4186 Map Driving Directions Store Miles McDonough West (Store #00771) 8 NE 250 Jonesboro Rd McDonough, GA 30253-3720 Main: (770) 898-6797 Fax: (770) 898-6721 Pharmacy: (770) 898-6689 Map Driving Directions Store Miles Eagles Landing (Store #00547) 9 NE 909 Eagles Landing Pkwy Ste 300 Stockbridge, GA 30281-6398 Main: (770) 389-6130 Fax: (770) 389-6140 Pharmacy: (770) 389-6136 Map Driving Directions Store Miles Paradise Pointe at Lake Dow (Store #00816) 10 E 920 Highway 81 E McDonough, GA 30252-2978 Main: (770) 898-1213 Fax: (770) 914-2459 Pharmacy: (770) 898-3593 Map Driving Directions Store Miles Summit Point (Store #01087) 10 W 840 Glynn St S Fayetteville, GA 30214-2004 Main: (678) 817-5415 Fax: (678) 817-5424 Pharmacy: (678) 817-5420 Map Driving Directions Store Miles Fayette Pavilion (Store #00579) 11 NW 108 Pavilion Pkwy Fayetteville, GA 30214-4056 Main: (770) 460-4100 Fax: (770) 460-4110 Pharmacy: (770) 460-4106 Map Driving Directions Store Miles Stockbridge Lakes (Store #00092) 12 N 250 E Atlanta Rd Stockbridge, GA 30281-3414 Main: (770) 389-4666 Fax: (770) 389-4349 Pharmacy: (770) 474-1822 Map Driving Directions Store Miles Publix at Mt. Zion (Store #00461) 12 N 2035 Mount Zion Rd Morrow, GA 30260-3313 Main: (770) 472-4000 Fax: (770) 472-4009 Pharmacy: (770) 472-4006 Map Driving Directions