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Organic food: worth the price?

"If you eat food, you eat pesticides."

You can't state it more simply than the Environmental Working Group does. The Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group is only one link in a chain stretching back to Rachel Carson's groundbreaking 1962 expose Silent Spring, which alerted the nation to the devastating dev·as·tate  
tr.v. dev·as·tat·ed, dev·as·tat·ing, dev·as·tates
1. To lay waste; destroy.

2. To overwhelm; confound; stun: was devastated by the rude remark.
 impact of the indiscriminate use of DDT DDT or 2,2-bis(p-chlorophenyl)-1,1,1,-trichloroethane, chlorinated hydrocarbon compound used as an insecticide. First introduced during the 1940s, it killed insects that spread disease and feed on crops.  and other pesticides.

Maybe the message has finally gotten through.

Organic food has hit the mainstream. And it's not just upscale marketers like Whole Foods. When Wal-Mart introduces its own organic brands, you know America is taking notice.

That's good news--for the insect and animal life that pesticides wipe out and for the soil, air, and rivers that pesticides pollute.

But is it worth the extra price for consumers?

"Most people start off choosing organic foods for selfish reasons," notes Mark Kastel, co-founder of the pro-organic Cornucopia Institute The Cornucopia Institute is a farm policy advocacy group based in Cornucopia, Wisconsin, they act as governmental and corporate watchdogs in the organic arena. Much of their focus over the past few years has been on "factory farms" (milking 2000-10,000 cows) producing organic milk. , based in Cornucopia cornucopia (kôr'nykō`pēə), in Greek mythology, magnificent horn that filled itself with whatever meat or drink its owner requested. , Wisconsin. "And there's nothing wrong with wanting to protect your family."

Avoiding potentially unsavory chemicals--like synthetic pesticides and other pollutants, hormones, and antibiotics--is the main attraction of organic. But a growing number of people are willing to pay more for organic for other reasons, says Kastel. "They want to support a different kind of environmental ethic, a more humane animal husbandry animal husbandry, aspect of agriculture concerned with the care and breeding of domestic animals such as cattle, goats, sheep, hogs, and horses. Domestication of wild animal species was a crucial achievement in the prehistoric transition of human civilization from , or economic justice for family farmers."

In other words Adv. 1. in other words - otherwise stated; "in other words, we are broke"
put differently
, they're concerned about the way some conventional farm operations treat their animals. Or by the way pesticides can kill off birds and seep into waterways, poisoning local frogs and fish. Or they want to do their part to help stem global warming global warming, the gradual increase of the temperature of the earth's lower atmosphere as a result of the increase in greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution. . (Organic agriculture uses about 30 percent less fossil fuel fossil fuel: see energy, sources of; fuel.
fossil fuel

Any of a class of materials of biologic origin occurring within the Earth's crust that can be used as a source of energy. Fossil fuels include coal, petroleum, and natural gas.
 than conventional agriculture.)

No matter why you buy organic food, here's what you need to know.

Are pesticide levels in foods harmful?

It's not clear. Pesticides are poisons. When given to animals in high doses, they can cause cancer, nervous system damage, and birth defects birth defects, abnormalities in physical or mental structure or function that are present at birth. They range from minor to seriously deforming or life-threatening. A major defect of some type occurs in approximately 3% of all births. .

And people who work with pesticides-farmers and crop-duster pilots, for example--appear to have higher rates of asthma, Parkinson's disease Parkinson's disease or Parkinsonism, degenerative brain disorder first described by the English surgeon James Parkinson in 1817. When there is no known cause, the disease usually appears after age 40 and is referred to as Parkinson's disease. , leukemia, myeloma myeloma /my·elo·ma/ (mi?e-lo´mah) a tumor composed of cells of the type normally found in the bone marrow.

giant cell myeloma  see under tumor (1).
, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma non-Hodg·kin's lymphoma
Any of various malignant lymphomas characterized by the absence of Reed-Sternberg cells.

Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma 
, and cancers of the lip, stomach, skin, brain, and prostate. (1)

According to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.

2. In keeping with: according to instructions.

 the Agricultural Health Study, men who applied pesticides for a living in Iowa had a 41 percent increased risk of prostate cancer prostate cancer, cancer originating in the prostate gland. Prostate cancer is the leading malignancy in men in the United States and is second only to lung cancer as a cause of cancer death in men. , while farmers who applied their own pesticides had a 17 percent increased risk. (2)

Of the 900 or so active ingredients in the pesticides that can legally be used in the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area. , some 20 cause cancer in animals and are classified as possible human carcinogens Carcinogens
Substances in the environment that cause cancer, presumably by inducing mutations, with prolonged exposure.

Mentioned in: Colon Cancer, Rectal Cancer

Yet there is remarkably little data on the risk to consumers from eating fruits and vegetables that contain pesticide residues.

"I don't know Don't know (DK, DKed)

"Don't know the trade." A Street expression used whenever one party lacks knowledge of a trade or receives conflicting instructions from the other party.
 any epidemiologic studies that tell you what the risk from pesticides in food is for an adult," says Aaron Blair, an epidemiologist at the National Cancer Institute (NCI See Liberate. ).

There are studies on older organochlorine or·gan·o·chlo·rine
Any of various hydrocarbon pesticides, such as DDT, that contain chlorine.
 pesticides like DDT, chlordane chlordane (klōr`dān): see insecticide. , and heptachlor heptachlor: see insecticides. , which are stored in body fat. Most of them were banned from use in agriculture decades ago, but residues still show up in the soil. And those pesticides are bad news.

"It doesn't look like they're related to breast cancer," says Blair. "But they probably are related to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and might be related to prostate cancer."

Those older pesticides "weren't very toxic," Blair points out. "But they last a really long time."

That meant that DDT and the other organochlorine pesticides remained in the environment for decades.

After they were banned, "we shifted to some things that are more toxic but that don't last very long," says Blair.

Almost all the pesticides used now in farming--like organophosphates, carbamates carbamates

effective insecticides which exert their effect by temporarily inhibiting cholinesterase activity. They are also capable of poisoning. Clinical signs are pupillary constriction, muscle tremor, salivation, ataxia and dyspnea.
, and pyrethroids--are "non-persis tent." That means they're metabolized quickly and your body doesn't store them.

"You get exposed and a few days later they're gone from your system," says Blair. "They come and go very quickly."

But, he adds, "that doesn't mean they can't do any harm. It's just that when there's no trace of the chemical any more, monitoring people for harm is really hitor-miss."

Another reason it's so tough to pin down any link between pesticides and cancer or other health problems is that we're constantly exposed to tiny doses of hundreds of pesticides and other chemicals. That makes it difficult, if not impossible, to detect any damage--particularly if it's subtle--from any one or two of them.

"I'd bet my first grandchild that 250 million Americans out of 300 million are being exposed to six or more pesticides a day," says Charles Benbrook, chief scientist at the Organic Center, a pro-organic think tank in Boulder, Colorado The City of Boulder (, Mountain Time Zone) is a home rule municipality located in Boulder County, Colorado, United States. Boulder is the 11th most populous city in the State of Colorado, as well as the most populous city and the county .

"But if you're a healthy adult, there are many things that pose greater health risks, like your saturated fat saturated fat, any solid fat that is an ester of glycerol and a saturated fatty acid. The molecules of a saturated fat have only single bonds between carbon atoms; if double bonds are present in the fatty acid portion of the molecule, the fat is said to be  and salt in take and exposure to tobacco smoke."

And it's reassuring that people who eat more fruits and vegetables--with or without pesticides--have a lower risk of heart disease. They're also less likely to suffer cancers of the colon, mouth, pharynx pharynx (fâr`ĭngks), area of the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts which lies between the mouth and the esophagus. In humans, the pharynx is a cone-shaped tube about 4 1-2 in. (11.43 cm) long. , esophagus, stomach, and lung, according to the National Cancer Institute. (3)

But the impact of pesticides on the developing brain and nervous system may be another story.

In late May, many of the world's leading environmental scientists warned that babies exposed to common chemicals, including pesticides, may be more susceptible to attention deficit disorder attention deficit (hyperactivity) disorder (ADD or ADHD)
 formerly hyperactivity

Behavioral syndrome in children, whose major symptoms are inattention and distractibility, restlessness, inability to sit still, and difficulty concentrating on one thing for any
, asthma, cancer, and other health problems. (4)

"Protecting the fetus and small child as highly vulnerable populations," the scientists urged, "should not await detailed evidence on individual hazards to be produced."

Benbrook concurs. "We really need to take that one risk factor off the dinner table," he says. "There just shouldn't be any pesticides in baby food."

That doesn't necessarily mean it has to be organic. "For example, even though the farmers growing for Gerber are using pesticides," Benbrook notes, "they've been doing it for years in a way that the finished product almost always has no detectable residues."

Should healthy adults also try to avoid pesticides?

"My guess is that most of the pesticides in foods don't do a lot of harm," says the NCI's Aaron Blair. "But I do believe that it's inconceivable they do nothing."

The bottom line: it can't hurt to avoid pesticides, but you're better off eating fruits and vegetables with pesticides than not eating fruits and vegetables.

Are organic foods likely to have fewer pesticides?

Yes. About three-quarters of conventionally grown Conventionally grown is an agriculture term referring to a method of growing edible plants (such as fruit and vegetables) and other products. It is opposite to organic growing methods which attempt to produce without synthetic chemicals (fertilisers, pesticides, antibiotics,  fruits and vegetables contain tiny amounts of pesticides--often more than one. (5)

The opposite is true for organic produce, according to a 2002 study by Consumers Union and the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) of Eugene, Oregon The city of Eugene is the county seat of Lane County, Oregon, United States. It is located at the south end of the Willamette Valley, at the confluence of the McKenzie and Willamette rivers, about 60 miles (100 km) east of the Oregon Coast. . The study looked at more than 94,000 samples of 20 crops tested by the USDA USDA, See United States Department of Agriculture.
, the state of California, and Consumers Union.

"Only about one in four organic fruits and vegetables contained a pesticide," says OMRI Research Director Brian Baker Brian Baker may refer to several people:
  • Brian Baker, an American guitarist for punk bands Minor Threat, Dag Nasty, and Bad Religion, among others.
  • Brian Baker, an American actor and former Sprint spokesman.
. "And when a residue was detected on organic food, the amount was usually smaller than what's found on conventional food."

Why would 25 percent of organic produce have any pesticides at all?

"It isn't zero because of back ground contamination and pesticide drift," says Baker. For example, although the toxic pesticides DDT and dieldrin dieldrin: see insecticides.  were banned from agriculture decades ago, traces persist in Verb 1. persist in - do something repeatedly and showing no intention to stop; "We continued our research into the cause of the illness"; "The landlord persists in asking us to move"
 the soil and contaminate con·tam·i·nate
1. To make impure or unclean by contact or mixture.

2. To expose to or permeate with radioactivity.

con·tam·i·nant n.
 anything that's grown in it, organic or conventional.

Pesticides can also drift in the wind from nearby conventional farms. "In most states, the conventional farmer's right to spray pesticides outweighs the organic farmer's right not to get sprayed on," says Baker.

And as more food is grown organically, more of it may become contaminated contaminated,
v 1. made radioactive by the addition of small quantities of radioactive material.
2. made contaminated by adding infective or radiographic materials.
3. an infective surface or object.
 with pesticide drift.

"Historically, organic farms have been fairly isolated," says Baker. "They started in generally marginal areas that weren't as commercially viable as heavily farmed conventional areas like the Central Valley or the Salinas Valley The Salinas Valley in the Central Coast region of California lies along the Salinas River between the Gabilan Range and the Santa Lucia Range. It encompasses parts of Monterey County.  in California."

As conventional farms switch over to organic, they're more likely to be near major agricultural areas and "are more likely to be exposed to aerial spraying and other applications that disperse pesticides much greater distances," says Baker.

There's another reason that some foods labeled "organic" could contain pesticides. They're not really organic.

"Quite frankly, fraud is a problem," says Baker.

The University of Minnesota's Jim Riddle agrees. "Any time there's money to be made, there's a strong temptation for fraud, for mislabeling mislabeling,
n 1. the inaccurate identification of a product in which the label lists ingredients or components that are not actually included within the product.
, for people to take advantage of the system. In my experience, however, such instances are extremely rare." Riddle, an organic foods inspector for 20 years, has trained inspectors all over the world.

In the 2002 study that compared conventional and organic foods, "there were some samples of organic food with pesticides that we felt couldn't be explained by background contamination," says Baker.

"On the other hand," he adds, "there were very few samples that showed up like that, so it's not common."

Are organic fruits and vegetables less likely to have E. coli E. coli: see Escherichia coli.
E. coli
 in full Escherichia coli

Species of bacterium that inhabits the stomach and intestines. E. coli can be transmitted by water, milk, food, or flies and other insects.
 or other bugs?

Probably not. "We don't have any information on the relative risk of organic versus conventionally grown foods from the point of view of microbial microbial

pertaining to or emanating from a microbe.

microbial digestion
the breakdown of organic material, especially feedstuffs, by microbial organisms.
 contamination," says Robert Tauxe of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), agency of the U.S. Public Health Service since 1973, with headquarters in Atlanta; it was established in 1946 as the Communicable Disease Center.  (CDC See Control Data, century date change and Back Orifice.

CDC - Control Data Corporation
) in Atlanta.

In 2006, raw spinach that was contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 killed four people and sickened nearly 200. It was grown on a central California Central California can refer to one of several divisions or regions of the U.S state of California:
  • The state is sometimes described as being in three main sections: Northern California (the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento Valley northward), Southern California (south
 farm that was switching from conventional to organic agriculture. While the spinach couldn't be marketed as organic (because the land was still in transition), it was grown using organic techniques.

California and federal investigators found the same strain of E. coli in river water and in feces from cattle and wild pigs on a ranch within a mile from where the spinach was grown. The investigators never figured out how the E. coli got from the ranch to the spinach.

Are organic fruits and vegetables more nutritious?

There's no good evidence. "The evidence is weak at best that organic and conventional foods differ in concentrations of various nutrients," says Health Canada Health Canada (French: Santé Canada) is the department of the government of Canada with responsibility for national public health.

Health Canada's goal is to improve Canadian life by improving Canadian longevity, lifestyle and use of public healthcare.
, the Canadian equivalent of the Food and Drug Administration. "There are few well-controlled studies that compare both."

In the few that have, organic produce was no higher in beta-carotene, vitamin A vitamin A
 also called retinol

Fat-soluble alcohol, most abundant in fatty fish and especially in fish-liver oils. It is not found in plants, but many vegetables and fruits contain beta-carotene (see
, potassium, and other nutrients that are plentiful in fruits and vegetables. (6)

One possible exception: some organic produce had slightly higher levels of vitamin C vitamin C
 or ascorbic acid

Water-soluble organic compound important in animal metabolism. Most animals produce it in their bodies, but humans, other primates, and guinea pigs need it in the diet to prevent scurvy.
. But roughly a third of the samples tested had no more C--and some had even less--than conventionally grown foods.

"The scientific evidence cannot support or refute the perception that organic foods are more nutritious than conventional foods," concludes Health Canada.

(According to a new meta-analysis, organic produce has higher levels of several nutrients in addition to vitamin C, says the Organic Center's Charles Benbrook. But the study hasn't yet been published.)

The bottom line: "For the average healthy adult who eats a pretty good, varied diet, and who is getting adequate servings of fresh fruits and vegetables, any extra nutrients in organic food may not alter their health to any significant extent," concedes Benbrook.

Are organic beef The examples and perspective in this article may not represent a worldwide view of the subject.
Please [ improve this article] or discuss the issue on the talk page.
The Roots
, poultry, eggs, and milk less contaminated?

It depends. Here's the rundown:

* Pesticides. Pesticides are very rarely found in beef, poultry, eggs, or milk, whether they're organic or non-organic, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture research chemist Steve Lehotay. The USDA regularly tests samples from slaughterhouses, dairy farms, and egg processing plants for residues of 121 different pesticides.

When the feds do find something, the residue is usually a byproduct by·prod·uct or by-prod·uct  
1. Something produced in the making of something else.

2. A secondary result; a side effect.

Noun 1.
 of chemicals that were banned years ago but that persist in the environment. Organic producers wouldn't normally be able to avoid those pollutants any better than non-organic producers.

* Foodborne germs. Organically raised animals are no less likely to be contaminated with E. coli or other germs.

"There's no evidence that the prevalence of foodborne pathogens is less on organic animal foods than on conventional animal foods," says Qijing Zhang of Iowa State University Academics
ISU is best known for its degree programs in science, engineering, and agriculture. ISU is also home of the world's first electronic digital computing device, the Atanasoff–Berry Computer.
 in Ames. Zhang is a professor of veterinary microbiology and preventive medicine preventive medicine, branch of medicine dealing with the prevention of disease and the maintenance of good health practices. Until recently preventive medicine was largely the domain of the U.S. .

"It's no mystery why," he says. "Disease-causing bacteria are spread to animals by multiple routes, such as insects, birds, and water. Organic farms are equally vulnerable to invasion by pathogens."

On the other hand, animals on organic farms live under less-crowded conditions, which might reduce animal-to-animal transmission, Zhang notes.

* Chemical contaminants. Since environmental contaminants like PCBs and dioxins are spread through the air and water, there's no reason to think that they're less likely to settle on an organic farm than on a conventional one. In fact, organically produced animals may be more exposed if they spend more time in pastures or eat more hay and silage silage (sī`lĭj) or ensilage (ĕn`səlĭj), succulent, moist feed made by storing a green crop in a silo. The crop most used for silage is corn; others are sorghum, sunflowers, legumes, and grass. .

"Those animals are much more exposed to materials like dioxins, which are atmospherically deposited onto grasses and soils," says Matt Lorber of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), independent agency of the U.S. government, with headquarters in Washington, D.C. It was established in 1970 to reduce and control air and water pollution, noise pollution, and radiation and to ensure the safe handling and . "They also consume earthworms and insects that have absorbed and concentrated dioxins from the soil."

Lorber and his colleagues at the EPA EPA eicosapentaenoic acid.

eicosapentaenoic acid

EPA, See acid, eicosapentaenoic.

 recently found that hay and silage had twice the concentration of dioxins as corn and soybean soybean, soya bean, or soy pea, leguminous plant (Glycine max, G. soja, or Soja max) of the family Leguminosae (pulse family), native to tropical and warm temperate regions of Asia, where it has been  meal. Organically raised animals consume more hay and silage and less corn and soybean meal than conventionally raised animals.

* Antibiotic residues. Organic producers are prohibited from giving their animals antibiotics to stimulate growth, so residues of drugs aren't a problem in organic meat, poultry, milk, or eggs. And when organic farmers give an animal antibiotics to treat an infection, the meat, milk, or eggs from the animal can't be marketed as organic.

But antibiotic residues aren't much of a problem in non-organic animals either. Rules require farmers to stop giving feed with antibiotics to their conventionally raised animals for some period before slaughter, and tests rarely detect traces of antibiotics or other drugs in conventionally produced meat, poultry, milk, or eggs. (7)

(The exception: veal, which comes from calves that are taken from their mothers soon after birth. Because of their living conditions living conditions nplcondiciones fpl de vida

living conditions nplconditions fpl de vie

living conditions living
, the calves are susceptible to a host of diseases, so veal producers routinely give them antibiotics and other drugs. Residues of antibiotics show up in about 9 percent of veal samples tested by the USDA.)

The four largest conventional poultry producers--Tyson Foods, Gold Kist Gold Kist NASDAQ: GKIS is a large chicken producing company in the United States south. It was founded in 1933 by D.W. Brooks, a University of Georgia agronomy instructor as the Cotton Producers Association , Perdue Farms Perdue Farms is a major chicken processing company based in Salisbury, Maryland, United States. The company was founded by Arthur Perdue but became a major regional business under his son Frank Perdue. Since 1991, the company has been headed by Frank's son Jim Perdue. , and Foster Farms, which account for 40 percent of the nation's poultry supply--say that they don't give their birds antibiotics to stimulate growth or to prevent disease in crowded pens.

* Antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Conventional cattle, pig, and poultry farms can use antibiotics both therapeutically and "subtherapeutically,." that is, to stimulate growth or prevent disease.

When bacteria are exposed to those antibiotics, some survive. When they reproduce, their offspring are also resistant to the antibiotics.

If you happen to become infected with the resistant bacteria and your doctor prescribes one of those antibiotics, the drug won't work effectively.

Organic farms are less hospitable to antibiotic-resistant bacteria than conventional farms.

"In general, there are fewer antibiotic-resistant bacteria on animals raised organically," says Iowa State's Qijing Zhang.

"Multiple factors may contribute to the difference," he adds, "and one of them is the lack of use of antibiotics on organic farms."

What Does it All Mean?

To a farmer, the word "organic" means healthy soil. To most consumers, it means no pesticides.

How do organic farmers defend their corn, spinach, etc., against pests? Among other things, they rotate crops, use plant varieties that are resistant to predators, nurture habitats for the natural enemies of pests, and release helpful bacteria.

Here's what organic and other terms mean legally:

* Organic fruits & vegetables were grown without synthetic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, or sewage sludge and haven't been genetically engineered genetically engineered adjective Recombinant, see there  or irradiated.

* Organic beef & chicken come from animals that weren't the offspring of cloned animals. They were raised on 100% organic feed, were never given growth hormones, antibiotics, or other drugs, and their meat was never irradiated.

* Organic milk comes from animals that, for at least the past 12 months, were fed 100% organic feed and weren't given antibiotics or growth hormones like rBST.

* Organic eggs come from hens that were fed 100% organic feed and were never given growth hormones or antibiotics.

* Organic seafood doesn't mean a thing, since the USDA hasn't defined the term.

* Cage-free eggs come from hens that were not confined to cages and that may or may not have had access to the outdoors. They're not necessarily organic.

* Free range or free roaming poultry have access to the outdoors, but for no minimum time. They're not necessarily organic. Cage-free poultry doesn't mean anything, since most chickens grown for meat are kept indoors (but cage-free) until they're transported to slaughter.

* No hormones administered can appear on beef labels if the producer can document that the animals were raised without hormones. Hormone-free is an illegal claim, since all animals produce their own hormones.

* No antibiotics added can appear on a label if the producer can document that the animals were raised without antibiotics.

* Natural (or All natural) meat or poultry products contain "no artificial ingredients and are no more than minimally processed." They're not necessarily organic, though some supermarkets try to make them appear to be.

* Access to the outdoors. All organically raised animals are supposed to have it. Critics charge that the rules are too vague, and that animals raised in huge organic operations don't get to move around enough outside.

Packaged Foods

* 100% Organic. All ingredients are organic.

* Organic, At least 95% of the ingredients are organic.

* Made with Organic Ingredients, At least 70% of the ingredients are organic.

Can You Trust Organic?

"Anything sold as organic in the United States has to be produced and processed according to our standards, regardless of where in the world it was grown," says former organic inspector Jim Riddle. "Every operation in the chain, from the producers to the processors, has to be inspected at least annually."

Riddle is a former organic farmer who served on the USDA's National Organic Standards Board. He's co-author of the International Organic Inspection Manual.

The USDA's National Organic Program (NOP (NO oPeration) See no-op. ) approves certification agencies--usually government offices or private companies--which then send inspectors to make sure that organic farms and food processors are following the rules.

A product can be labeled organic only if the farm or processing plant has passed inspection by one of these certification agencies. That's how the NOP's staff of around 10 people monitors more than 20,000 organic growers, ranchers, processing plants, and others in the U.S. and abroad.

According to Riddle, "inspectors visit all fields, where they examine soil quality, crop health, weeds, pests, and diseases. And they look at border areas for contamination from adjoining land." The inspectors also examine the farm's buildings and equipment, looking for Looking for

In the context of general equities, this describing a buy interest in which a dealer is asked to offer stock, often involving a capital commitment. Antithesis of in touch with.
 signs of prohibited chemicals.

"A great deal of time is spent reviewing the operation's production, harvest, storage, and sales records," Riddle notes. "And the inspector conducts a sample audit to determine that the operation is selling no more crop as organic than could have been produced from the acres under certified organic production."

If the inspector suspects that the farm may be cooking the books, says Riddle, he or she can be authorized to conduct unannounced followup inspections.

At least that's the way it's supposed to work.

Last year, Paula Lavigne, a reporter for the Dallas Morning News who is now at the Des Moines Des Moines, city, United States
Des Moines (dĭ moin`), city (1990 pop. 193,187), state capital and seat of Polk co., S central Iowa, at the junction of the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers; inc.
 Register, tried to determine how common cheating is. The NOP is supposed to post violations on its Web site, but it doesn't. So in April 2006, Lavigne filed a Freedom of Information Act request for copies of reports of violations. By April 2007, "they had provided only some of the information," she notes.

Meanwhile, Lavigne says that she learned independently--from talking to Noun 1. talking to - a lengthy rebuke; "a good lecture was my father's idea of discipline"; "the teacher gave him a talking to"
lecture, speech

rebuke, reprehension, reprimand, reproof, reproval - an act or expression of criticism and censure; "he had to
 more than 100 farmers, ranchers, inspectors, lawyers, and legislators--that some certifiers hadn't reported violations to the USDA and that the USDA hadn't penalized pe·nal·ize  
tr.v. pe·nal·ized, pe·nal·iz·ing, pe·nal·iz·es
1. To subject to a penalty, especially for infringement of a law or official regulation. See Synonyms at punish.

 certifying companies that repeatedly failed to do their inspections properly.

Shortly after an article by her that was critical of the NOP appeared in the summer of 2006, the USDA--for the first time--fired a certifying agency.

Importing Organics

"By far, the bulk of the products being sold in the United States as organic are produced in the United States," says former organic inspector Jim Riddle. "Your grains, a lot of the fruits and vegetables, most of the meats, and all of the dairy products dairy products dairy nplproduits laitier

dairy products dairy nplMilchprodukte pl, Molkereiprodukte pl 
 are domestic, so only around 5 percent of organic products are being imported."

Still, the percentage is rising. And that worries some people.

"This is politically touchy, but with imported food there are some definite concerns," says Brian Baker of the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI). "Other countries do not have the regulatory oversight on pesticides that we have here."

In the 2002 study of organic and conventional foods by OMRI and Consumers Union, "samples of Mexican produce labeled as organic had levels of organophosphate pesticides that were above what one would expect if it were caused by drift," he notes.

"The levels were closer to what one would expect if it was a direct intentional application. I know that there are plenty of good, honest organic farmers in Mexico, and their reputation could be hurt by those who are not."

Mark Kastel, co-founder of the pro-organic Cornucopia Institute, agrees that organic imports could be a problem. "We know there's a little less integrity to the process in some other countries," he notes.

In the United States, every organic farm is supposed to be inspected every year. "But in some countries, a group of farms may have one certification, so each farm might not get inspected every year," says Kastel.

The biggest concern: China, which claims to have converted 8.6 million acres to organic farmland. That's more than four times the organic farmland of the entire United States. But the USDA reported in 2006 that "widespread pollution, high pest infestations, and a long history of heavy chemical fertilizer and pesticide use make growing crops organically difficult in most areas of China."

Fred Gale, the USDA economist who co-wrote that report, was even blunter when talking to the media. He told the Dallas Morning News last year that it was "almost impossible to grow truly organic food in China" because the soil, water, and air is so polluted.

"I think that a high level of scrutiny is deserved," says organic foods inspection expert Jim Riddle, "when organic products are coming in from economies such as China, which have demonstrated a lack of respect for following international rules on intellectual property and where high levels of corruption and environmental contamination occur."

Kastel agrees. "The pollution problems are endemic there and there are serious questions about organic certification Organic certification is a certification process for producers of organic food and other organic agricultural products. In general, any business directly involved in food production can be certified, including seed suppliers, farmers, food processors, retailers and restaurants. ," he says. "Despite that, the USDA is just taking people's word for what's going on What's Going On is a record by American soul singer Marvin Gaye. Released on May 21, 1971 (see 1971 in music), What's Going On reflected the beginning of a new trend in soul music. ."

That may be changing. A USDA spokesperson said last April that the agency was scheduling on-site inspections of the organic certifiers that operate in China.

The Cornucopia Institute isn't waiting. It's sending its own people to China to investigate organic certification there.

Widespread safety problems with conventional foods from China don't inspire confidence in its organic products. U.S. Customs agents reject about 75 food shipments from China every month, even though they inspect less than 1 percent of imports.

Earlier this year, border inspectors blocked Chinese peas contaminated with pesticides, dried plums with illegal food additives food additives, substances added to foods by manufacturers to prevent spoilage or to enhance appearance, taste, texture, or nutritive value. By quantity, the most common food additives are flavorings, which include spices, vinegar, synthetic flavors, and, in the , pepper tainted with Salmonella, and frozen crawfish crawfish: see crayfish.  that were filthy.

And Chinese authorities have acknowledged that wheat gluten and rice protein that were shipped to the United States earlier this year were tainted with melamine melamine (mĕl`əmēn'), common name for 2,4,6-triamino-1,3,5-triazine. Melamine is a trimer (see polymer) of cyanamide, H2NC≡N, and is synthesized from calcium carbide. , an industrial chemical that some Chinese manufacturers add to food to make it look richer in protein. The gluten was used to make pet food, which sickened thousands of cats and dogs Cats and Dogs

A slang term referring to speculative stocks that have short or suspicious histories for sales, earnings, dividends, etc.

In a bull market analysts will often mention that everything is going up, even the cats and dogs.
 here. Some of the melamine ended up in hog, poultry, and fish feed.

A handful of U.S. companies have taken matters into their own hands.

"I can flat-out guarantee you that those organic snap peas from China that Whole Foods is selling have had a lot more scrutiny on them than what might minimally be required to get organic certification in China," says the Organic Center's Charles Benbrook.

Still, when it comes to organic imports, consumers have to trust farmers and inspectors in other countries. It's hard enough to do that with organic broccoli from California.

For more information about organic foods and for links to topics discussed in this article, go to


(2) "Prostate Cancer and Agricultural Pesticides," AHS-IA-2003-3.

(3) 1&did=2005&chid=21&coid=207&mid=.


(5) Food Addit. Contam. 19: 427, 2002.

(6) J. Altem. Compl. Med. 7:161, 2001.

(7) asp.

What's in Your Fruits & Vegetables?

Peaches almost always carry pesticide residues. Onions seldom do. Apples? Yes. Avocados? No.

If you want to avoid pesticides but don't want to buy everything organic, use this table to find out which organic produce makes the most difference. It was created by the Washington, D.C.-based non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG EWG Environmental Working Group
EWG Europäische Wirtschaftsgemeinschaft (German: European Economic Community)
EWG Expert Working Group
EWG Executive Working Group
EWG Electron-Withdrawing Group
EWG UN/EDIFACT Working Group

EWG ranked the 43 most commonly consumed fruits and vegetables using the results of nearly 43,000 analyses for pesticides conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration from 2002 to 2004. It gave each fruit or vegetable a score based on:

* the percentage of samples that had detectable pesticides,

* the percentage of samples that had two or more pesticides,

* the average number of pesticides found on a sample,

* the average concentration of all pesticides found,

* the maximum number of pesticides found on a single sample, and

* the total number of pesticides found.

The worst offender? Peaches--97% were contaminated with pesticide residues. The average peach contained residues of three different pesticides.

"Peaches have a soft skin, and the pesticides tend to go right through into the pulp," explains the Organic Center's Charles Benbrook. "That's why soft-skinned fruits and vegetables have the worst residues compared to produce with thicker skins or peels."

One important shortcoming short·com·ing  
A deficiency; a flaw.


a fault or weakness

Noun 1.
 of the rankings: they don't take into account the toxicity of each pesticide, which is hard to quantify. So a fruit with a small amount of one toxic pesticide won't look as bad as another fruit with several, far less toxic pesticide residues. But the table is still useful as a measure of the fruit's "total pesticide load."

According to the EWG, you can lower your pesticide exposure by almost 90 per cent if you avoid "The Dirty Dozen" (the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables) and eat the 12 least contaminated instead.

Another option: buy organic. But whatever you do, you re better off eating fruits and vegetables with pesticides than not eating fruits and vegetables.
                                             % with 2
                                 % with      or more
Fruit or Vegetable      Score   Pesticide   Pesticides

The Dirty Dozen

Peaches                 100        97%         87%
Apples                   89        92%         79%
Sweet bell peppers       86        82%         62%
Celery                   85        94%         80%
Nectarines               84        97%         85%
Strawberries             82        92%         69%
Cherries                 75        91%         76%
Pears                    65        87%         47%
Grapes (imported)        65        85%         53%
Spinach                  60        70%         31%
Lettuce                  59        59%         33%
Potatoes                 58        81%         18%

Carrots                  57        82%         48%
Green beans              53        65%         39%
Hot peppers              53        55%         28%
Cucumbers                52        73%         32%
Raspberries              47        48%         23%
Plums                    45        56%         10%
Grapes                   43        61%         22%
Oranges                  42        83%        290%
Grapefruit               40        62%         23%
Tangerines               38        67%         33%
Mushrooms                37        60%         18%
Cantaloupe Cantaloupe    34        55%         20%
Honeydew melon           31        69%         14%
Tomatoes                 30        47%         14%
Sweet potatoes           30       580%         10%
Watermelon               28        29%         14%
Winter squash            27        40%         13%
Cauliflower              27        72%          8%
Blueberries              24        28%         10%

The Consistently Clean

Papaya                   21        24%          5%
Broccoli                 18        28%          3%
Cabbage                  17        18%         50%
Bananas                  16        42%          2%
Kiwi                     14        15%          3%
Sweet peas (frozen)      11        23%          2%
Asparagus                11         7%          1%
Mango                     9         7%          1%
Pineapples                7         8%          1%
Sweet corn (frozen)       2         4%          0%
Avocado                   1         1%          0%
Onions                    1         0%          O%

Source: Environmental Working Group.

Organic Scorecard

                       Fruits,           Meat,           Milk,
Are Organic Foods    vegetables,       poultry,         butter,
LESS LIKELY to:         grains           eggs           cheese

Damage the               YES              YES             YES

Have pesticide           YES         no difference   no difference

Have antibiotic        doesn't        neither has     neither has
residues?               apply             any             any
                                      (except for

Have E. coli        no difference    no difference   no difference
or other bugs?

Have more           May have a bit   no difference   no difference
nutrients?          more vitamin C
COPYRIGHT 2007 Center for Science in the Public Interest
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007, Gale Group. All rights reserved.

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Author:Schardt, David
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Article Type:Cover story
Date:Jul 1, 2007
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