Where Local and Global Appetites Collide

Top Five Things to Watch Out For When Buying Organic Foods

As food dangers multiply, organic food is becoming more popular. After all, who doesn’t want to eat food that is free of dangerous pesticides, herbicides and antibiotics? Many people also want to avoid food that has been treated with hormones, irradiated or genetically engineered. Many others want to eat meat that does not come from a feedlot. Eating organic, or so we are led to believe, avoids all of this.

Unfortunately, organic is not always all that it is made out to be. The industry is rife with deceptive practices and misleading labeling. If you are going to buy organic, whether you purchase your food in the supermarket or order specialty foods online, you need to be wary of the top five organic food traps.

1. Not All Organic Foods Are Equal
Most people do not know that most foods are not totally organic unless they are labeled 100 percent organic. The exceptions are foods with only one ingredient, such as vegetables, fruits and milk. Any processed food that is just labeled ‘Organic’ is up to 10 percent non-organic. Products labeled ‘Made with Organic Ingredients’ have as much as 30 percent non-organic ingredients.

2. Organic Does Not Equal Chemical Free
While the USDA bans the use of artificial chemicals and fertilizers in the production of organic food, it does not ban all chemicals. Many organic farmers spray just as much as conventional farmers but use approved chemicals like BT. These chemicals will certainly not have as much of an effect on human health as their artificial counterparts, but how safe they are is debatable.

If you want to buy organic food that is truly chemical free, you have two choices. You can either find a reputable company that pledges not to use any unnecessary chemicals or buy your food from a local farmer.

3. Organic Is Not Always Cruelty Free
One of the biggest reasons many people buy organic food is to get meat and dairy products that have been raised in a humane manner. Feedlots and chicken houses are true nightmares to anyone who has a conscience. When most people picture an organic farm, they think of cows grazing happily on pasture and chickens scratching in the dirt.

Some companies are pretty good about meeting these expectations, but this is not usually the case when it comes to the big organic companies. Many organic meat and dairy producers raise their animals in standard feedlots under ‘organic’ conditions. The animals are treated with different chemicals and fed organic grain, but otherwise are raised conventionally.

Likewise, poultry farmers often do the same. The term “cage-free” has become popular in the industry, but all it means, depending on the state or the certifying agency, is that the chickens have more room in their cages or are free to run around the chicken house. It does not mean they are allowed to roam outside. Most cage-free chickens never see sunlight.

4. Organic Isn’t Always Environmentally Friendly
Organic food does reduce the amount of chemicals entering waterways and the amount of soil erosion that occurs annually, but in some ways it is less eco-friendly than its conventional counterpart. The main reason this is so is because of shipping. A lot of organic food is shipped halfway around the world from where it is grown. Organic food may be better for you, but a 9,000 mile plane trip is not good for the planet.

5. Organic Is Not Always Worth It
Organic food costs more, so much so that few people can afford to buy only organic food. For the rest of us, that means making tradeoffs and buying some conventional food. Some of this food is treated in such a manner that buying the organic version just is not worth it. Organic onions, for example, are hard to find but there really is no need to, as conventional onions are rarely sprayed because bugs just do not like them. Buy organic where it counts and do not worry about the rest.

Organic food is definitely better for you than conventional, but be careful to research the farms and companies you are buying from to make certain you are getting the real thing.

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