Despite many attempts to weaken it by industry lobbyists, the organic standard in the United States is one of the few strong standards we can still count on for ensuring that products were made free from toxic chemicals and genetic modification. As such, we can generally rely on the “organic” label to help guide us towards wiser purchases. Unlike the word “natural”, which has essentially zero meaning, when we buy things that have been grown organically, we are not only choosing something that is likely to be much better for our family's health, but we are casting votes for a better planet for all of us.
Pesticide and GMO Hazards
So why should we care about organic products? First of all, if it's not organic, there's a good chance it's been cultivated with copious amounts of extremely toxic chemicals–pesticides which were developed from WWII chemical warfare research–aimed at killing anything that may harm crops. Unfortunately, these extremely toxic chemicals (many of which are known to cause cancer, birth defects, and other diseases) have a huge negative impact on the natural environment and on our bodies’ health. Secondly, many popular non-organic crops are composed of genetically modified organisms, GMO's for short. These new genetic laboratory creations—which have been largely rejected by Europeans—can be strange conglomerations of dramatically different life forms into one “food” product. Examples include crossing flounder fish genes with strawberries to make them more resistant to frost, and crossing bacteria with potatoes to make them lethal to insects that eat them. I personally believe that the use of GMO's in consumer products is an unfortunate mass human experiment which has been foisted upon us. We are only now just beginning to understand some of the many negative impacts of GMO's on us and the environment. Look for more information in future posts on this topic.
In order to be certified organic, farmers must follow strict guidelines to ensure that not only no chemicals are used in growing the current crop but that no chemicals have been used on that land for some period of prior years. This includes chemical fertilizers, chemical pesticides, and other chemical treatments. And, so far, the organic label also ensures that the crops were grown without GMO's. The organic standard in the US also precludes the use of irradiation, antibiotics (for animals), and sewage sludge on crops.
Priorities for Buying Organic
Can I honestly say that 100% of what I buy is organic? Of course not. Organic options do not even exist for many things. However, I certainly aim to buy mainly organic products–especially when it comes to foods and personal care products–as these are the ones which not only have a large impact on the environment but have the largest impact on our health. Further, there are some things that given the choice are more important to be organic than not. For example, I refuse to buy soybean or corn products which, if not organic, at least are non-GMO since most of the other corn and soybean crops are grown with chemical pesticides and GMO's. I tend to make fruit and vegetables in which we eat the skin a higher priority to be organic than the ones in which we throw away the peel–given that much of the chemical contamination happens externally in the form of spraying. I also make a high priority of using organic personal care products (as well as those without other nasty chemical compound ingredients period). I would also make a high priority of buying organic products—especially food—for pregnant & nursing mothers, babies, and young children who are especially susceptible to the ill effects of chemicals.
Keep Increasing the Demand
Organic crops have traveled from the fringes to land squarely in the mainstream and are now purchased by a vast majority of people in the US. Production of organic crops has doubled since the 1990’s and demand has been even higher. This is a trend that should continue to be stoked by our consumer clout—for healthier families and a sustainable environment. So, when you have a choice, choose organic!
Resources for more info:
Organic Trade Association
Wikipedia on Organic Certification
Organic Consumers Association