Its always made sense to me to choose organic foods and products. After all, who wants a side of toxic pesticides with her luscious spring strawberries? But attending the Organics Matters panel at the Natural Products Expo in Anaheim inspired me to recommit myself to the organics cause. Let me tell you why.
First, Maria Rodale led the panel. A third-generation organic farming activist (her grandfather, J.I. Rodale, began publishing organic farming and gardening magazines some 70 years ago), Maria is now Rodales CEO and chairman. I know Maria from my days as a Rodale writer and editorwe were on the same natural and alternative medicine wavelength. In her new book, Organic Manifesto, she explains how organic farming can heal the planet, feed the world, and keep us safe. Its a compelling read: She lays out the history of pesticides and the scientific links to their ill effects on the planet and the human body so clearly that youll think twice the next time you reach for a nonorganic veggie.
Organic produce is better for you
As far as Im concerned, theres no contest, taste-wise: fresh organic produce just tastes better. But taste isnt the only reason to make the choice: Organic produce is also richer in health-protecting nutrients.
Charles Benbrook, PhD, the former executive director of the board of agriculture for the National Academy of Sciences, and now chief scientist for The Organic Center, cites studies on their website that compare conventional and organically grown produce. Bottom line, organic produce is:
- 41% higher in vitamins
- 34% higher in minerals
- 88% higher in antioxidant capacity
Speaking at the panel session, Benbrook noted that organic farming not only yields more nutritious food, but also can reclaim land thats become infertile. “The principals of organic farming can restore land thats been destroyed," he said.
What you dont know about GMO
Thanks to Maria and the other panel members, I learned something new. Up until now, I was pretty unconcerned about genetically modified organisms (GMOs), a term referring to plants and other living things whose DNA has been artificially altered to make them more resistant to herbicides, diseases, and pests. I knew that the health food community considers them dangerous, and just learned that some 30 countries have banned their use.
Heres what I didnt know: Something like 85% of all the farm acres devoted to soybeans in this country grow GM soybeans. GM corn is planted in some 60% of our corn-growing acres. This means youre virtually assured of consuming GM corn or soybeans whenever you eat a mass-produced food product containing one of them. And GM wheat may be next. Despite the fact that 233 consumer and farmer groups in 26 different countries allied themselves against GM wheat last year, the wheat industry intends to move forward with developing GM wheat crops.
What you should know about GMO
Its what we dont know that could hurt us. According to the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM), a 45-year-old group of physicians and researchers who focus on how the environment affects our health, GMO foods arent tested for safety because theyre considered “substantially equivalent to conventional foods.” But the evidence that theyre not benign is mounting. Animal studies show that GMO foods can mess up immune function in a way that leads to asthma, allergies, and inflammation. Other animals studies show that GMO foods affect liver function and cause changes at the cellular level that can accelerate aging. A 2008 study links GM corn with infertility (in mice). Researchers have also documented changes in the kidneys, pancreas, and spleens of animals fed GM corn; more than 400 genes expressed themselves differently in mice fed GM corn.
These and other studies led the AAEM to call for a moratorium on GM foods, safety testing, and labeling so that consumers know which foods contain GM ingredients.
Without even being aware of it, Americans have been eating GM corn and soy for more than a decade. Has it hurt us? Hard to say. But if what happens to mice happens to people, its not much of a stretch to think theres a link between eating GM foods and, say, an increased rate of diabetes, which is projected to rise by 54% between 2000 (around the time GM foods were introduced) and 2030.
Whats the answer?
Demand organics, as Maria Rodale urges. Foods that bear the USDA Certified Organic seal are pesticide-free, herbicide-free, and contain no GM ingredients. And if you think organic produce is too expensive for your recession-strapped budget, think again: You can find organic produce and food at budget-friendly stores like Walmart, Costco, Sams Club, Safeway, and other major supermarkets.