You probably have heard talk about organic food and its health benefits for children. There are several reasons why some parents choose to buy organic foods, perhaps the most common reason is to reduce exposure to toxins and pesticides. Other reasons could include an interest in eating local food that supports local farmers and economies, which is a part of the organic culture. And many believe that organic farming methods are more sustainable and better for the environment and that organic means humane treatment of animals.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) labels foods organic if they contain 95-100% certified organic ingredients.
To apply the organic seal, USDA regulates the substances used in production and processing and prohibits the use of irradiation, sewage sludge, or genetically modified organisms. Antibiotics and synthetic hormones are also prohibited in organic meat and poultry, and the USDA requires 100% organic feed for organic livestock.
While organic farming has been one of the fastest growing segments of agriculture for over a decade, still less than 1% of total cropland and of pasture are certified organic.
The price of organic food has become more competitive as more acreage is devoted to organic. The price can depend on where you live. Some communities have more outlets for organic and thus prices are more competitive. Buying organic food is a personal choice and for some households the budget won’t allow any additional costs. If you want to limit your exposure to pesticides but can’t always buy organic, a good option is to purchase those fruits and vegetables that have less measurable pesticides. For example, in a study by the Environmental Working Group, peaches, strawberries and celery showed more measurable toxic residues than onions, avocadoes or corn. Here’s a link to the organization’s “Dirty Dozen” wallet card (and iPhone app): http://foodnews.org/walletguide.php.
Some people believe organic foods taste better. Often organic food is from local farms so it does not travel as far to the market and it could be fresher.
Researchers at the University of Washington studied children ages 3-11 and found that children who substituted organic fresh fruits and vegetables for their conventional counterparts had lower concentrations of pesticides in their urine. The study concluded that “dietary intake of pesticides represents the major source of exposure for infants and children.” (Source: Environmental Health Perspectives, April 2008)
Nonorganic meat and milk often contain hormones and antibiotics. Organic products do not contain them. Concern has been raised that the hormones and antibiotics in meat and milk products can lead to early onset of puberty in girls and behavioral problems in children, both areas of concern for internationally adopted children.
So, is organic food healthier? the bottom line really is that no scientific studies have found that organic products are healthier or safer for consumers. And, no studies have been done comparing agricultural methods to determine whether organic food is a healthier option. Although the USDA makes no claim that organically produced food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food, organic products are generally recognized to contain fewer pesticides and organic production methods are more positive for the environment.
If you’d like to read more about organics, the Organic Trade Association has information on organics and children: http://www.ota.com/organic/benefits/children.html