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Going green with organic foods

By By Brenda Anderson
July 23, 2013 at 2:23 a.m.

USDA Organic Seal

Organic foods are part of the green movement, which is about being more sensitive to our environment by thinking about the products we buy, the energy we use and the foods we eat.

What is organic food? In 2002, the United States Department of Agriculture launched the National Organic Program, which clearly defined standards for organic foods. Animal-derived organic foods - like milk, meat and eggs - must come from noncloned animals that are not given any hormones or antibiotics and are fed only organic feed.

Organic crops, including fruits and vegetables, cannot be irradiated or genetically engineered, cannot use synthetic pesticides or herbicides and cannot use fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge, all for at least three years prior to harvest. Only producers that meet these program standards are allowed to use the USDA Organic seal on their products.

When looking for organically grown foods, pay attention to labels. By law, only foods that contain all organic ingredients can be labeled 100 percent organic. If a food contains at least 95 percent organic ingredients, it can be called organic but not 100 percent organic. And foods that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients can have "made with organic ingredients" on the label.

Are organic foods more nutritious? While there have been a few small scale studies that suggest vitamin C content is higher among some organically grown fruits and vegetables, there is no conclusive evidence that organically grown foods are more nutritious than those conventionally grown. Keep in mind that all fruits and vegetables, whether grown organically or conventionally, contain valuable nutrients and other health promoting compounds.

Are organic foods safer? Regardless of the type of food produced, the U.S. has one of the safest food supplies in the world. Studies show that organically grown produce has fewer pesticide residues than conventionally grown crops, but there may be concerns about contamination from manure used for fertilizer by organic farmers.

While manure can be a source of germs that cause foodborne illness, if a producer wants his farm to be certified by the USDA as organic, there are established guidelines for using manure that must be followed.Research conducted in Minnesota some years ago, comparing produce from certified organic farms, non-certified organic farms and conventional farms, found that organically grown produce does not have a higher risk of contamination and that having a certification program that outlines how to use manure safely may actually reduce risk of contamination.

What keeps people from buying organic foods? Price is the biggest barrier, since studies show that going organic can increase food costs by 49 percent or more.

If you choose to incorporate organically grown foods into your meals, you may have to alter your food budget and spend less in other areas. Even when organically produced foods are available, quantity and variety may be limited. Appearance is also a factor. Since no synthetic pesticides are used to grow organic foods, they may have blemishes or imperfections that may make the food look less appealing.And no matter how the foods you choose are produced, always remember to use safe food handling practices.

For more information, visit the USDA website.

SOURCES: "Going Green with Organic Foods" curricula from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Better Living for Texans program.

Brenda Anderson is a Victoria County extension assistant.

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