How do you know if the food you are purchasing is genuinely free of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers and genetically engineered food? How can the consumer rely on the fact that a farmer says his produce is “organic”? The only way to be sure that it is really an organic product is to purchase certified organic products that have the label USDA/Certified Organic.
In 1990, the Organic Foods Production Act established national standards for labeling found on the USDA website. Businesses cannot claim they are organic without having the USDA certification or they risk a heavy fine. Farmers apply for “organic” certification. Diligent records must be kept. The land must meet certain standards. The farmland must remain dormant for three years. During this time synthetic chemicals, pesticides, fertilizers, or fungicides cannot be utilized. Third party inspectors check the fields, and complete stringent soil and water tests.
The USDA/Certified Organic seal may be found on products like meats, milk, eggs, cheese, and vegetables. What do the labels on these products mean?
- 100% Organic- on the product means 100% organic ingredients. Packaging can display the USDA/Certified Organic seal.
- Organic– on the product means that the ingredients are 95-99% organic ingredients. Product can bear the USDA/Certified Organic seal.
- Made with Organic Ingredients– means that the item contains 70-94% organic ingredients. They cannot display the certified organic label.
- Other- on the packaging contains less than 70% organic ingredients and cannot bear the certified seal.
- Natural- should be interpreted as no artificial colors or flavors
Organic vegetables and fruits can be more expensive to buy than traditionally grown produce. If you are not able to grow your own fruits and veggies use this simple trick to decrease your family’s health risk. If you are concerned about the synthetic pesticides that have been used on produce but can’t afford to buy all organic food then consider buying only the organic fruits and vegetables that have the most pesticide exposure. Typically, the following produce have the most exposure to synthetic chemicals so consider buying them in “organic.”
- Green beans
- Winter Squash
- Bell peppers
- Red Raspberries
- Imported Grapes
What about GMO’s?
A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered through genetic engineering. DNA molecules from different sources are combined into a molecule to create a new set of genes. This DNA is then transferred into an organism. This may give the new organism desired traits, such as better disease resistance or withstanding cold temperatures better.
Genes are spliced into the host like tumors invade cells. Scientists can alter an organism by manipulating DNA with cancer causing pesticides in the cells of the plant to produce plants that can withstand greater amounts of pesticide without wilting or dying. Scientists have also crossed tomato plants with fish genes so that tomato plants will become more resistant to cold weather.
These genetically modified organisms contain pollen with the new genetically altered traits. The pollen can be eaten by birds or insects and travel through the wind to pollinate other organisms that have not been genetically altered. The natural species can not survive with the GMO one. Thus, all of the pollinated plants will produce genetically altered seeds/plants/organisms.
Food labels in the US do not have to inform the consumer that the product has been genetically engineered. But if an item is marked “certified organic” that means the produce is free from genetically modified organisms. Five of the top hosts of GMO are corn and corn products, soy/soy products, rice, wheat, canola and cottonseed oil.
How safe are the new GMO’s that we eat? How long were the GMO’s studied? There are some groups that think that a complete ban on all GM food would be necessary until studied further. Still, others want a least a mandatory labeling of GM food until the long term health effects of eating these foods are known. These products still have some environmental safety issues: possible destruction of entire food chains if the GMO is unleashed to pollinate non GMO produce. Some countries around the world are banning production of any GMO’s. Some counties in California are putting bans on producing genetically modified food at this time until some of these issues are resolved.
What options do we have? Of course, first and foremost if you have the land, or enough area for a container garden, grow your own. (At least until the genetically engineered foods have been studied longer.) Growing your own food gives you the knowledge of where your food came from and how it was grown. You can feel comfortable feeding your family and know that you are not eating genetically modified foods.
Secondly, you the consumer can shop at grocery retailers that sell certified organic foods. This segment of foods is growing quickly as more and more consumers turn to a healthier lifestyle. At the time of this writing, these foods are approximately 5-8% higher in price, but as with anything, as demand grows the price will drop.
Personally, I feel that the consumer should be informed about any foods that contain GMO. That we, the consumer, should have the right to decide whether we want to or eat these foods or not.