Is Organic Food Worth It?

Is Organic Food Worth It? A post dedicated to organic vs. conventional food and what it really means to consumers in terms of health benefits, cost, and hormone/antibiotics use. 

Besides the rent, I probably spend most of my money on food as I love food and try to be conscious about my grocery purchase/products I buy for everyday use. Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to a certain brand, dietary lifestyle, and budget for food, which I totally respect. Food industry is HUGE and there is always something new going on - nutrition claims, buzz words, food trends etc. which is confusing and overwhelming to most people, including myself.

Is Organic Food Worth It? A post dedicated to organic vs. conventional industry and what it really means to consumers in terms of health benefits, cost, and hormone/antibiotics use.

Do you pause and think twice (or more) before picking a gallon of milk? Or, not know if extra $2 is worth the cage-free label for eggs? Should you get organic produce or stick with the conventional kind?There are some people who will buy everything organic, then there are some in between unsure if going 100% organic for everything is feasible, and the remaining ones who could careless. At the end of the day, all that matters is what's practical for you and your family's lifestyle and budget. Please don't feel like you MUST do XYZ because the society is telling you to do so. Do your research, make the decision what's best for you, and most definitely don't feel bad if you can't spend extra $$ on organic produce just because your neighbor is doing so.

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Organic food is a hot, widely debated topic and I think it needs more consumer education and awareness to decide if it is worth it.Organic produce and other ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. The food is produced, manufactured and handled using organic means defined by certifying bodies such as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) under its Organic Food Products Act.

Organic farming practices are designed to encourage soil and water conservation and reduce pollution. Farmers who grow organic produce don't use conventional methods to fertilize and control weeds. Examples of organic farming practices include using natural fertilizers to feed soil and plants, and using crop rotation or mulch to manage weeds.

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How do I know if something is organic?  The USDA has identified for three categories of labeling organic products: - 100% Organic: Made with 100% organic ingredients - Organic: Made with at least 95% organic ingredients - Made With Organic Ingredients: Made with a minimum of 70% organic ingredients with strict restrictions on the remaining 30% including no GMOs (genetically modified organisms) - Products with less than 70% organic ingredients may list organically produced ingredients on the side panel of the package, but may not make any organic claims on the front of the package. Are Organic Produce Nutritionally Superior? Based on scientific reviews, organic and conventional foods appeared equal in terms of nutritional value. But it is extremely difficult to conduct studies that would control the many variables that might affect nutrients, such as seeds, soil type, climate, post-harvest handling, and crop variety.However, different production methods may give rise to other differences that usually does not get addressed.

What about chemicals/fertilizers? Not only conventional farmers butorganic farmers also use both synthetic and natural kinds of pesticides —with approval under the USDA Organic Act. Studies have suggested that organic fruits and veggies harbor fewer pesticide residues than conventionally farmed produce but most studies only looked at natural pesticides and not the synthetic ones. No matter what pesticides are being used, it’s the dose that makes the poison and just because produce are sometimes laced with pesticides doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re doing anyone any harm. In most fruits and vegetables, we consume way less dose of chemicals than EPA’s recommended exposure limit. For instance, you’d have to eat as many apples and apple products as 787 Americans eat in a single day combined in order to be exposed to a level of this pesticide that approaches the EPA’s exposure limit. My friend Jessica talks about why non-conventional strawberries are totally okay!!

Why Does Organic Food Cost More? Organic farms are generally smaller than conventional farms so they do not benefit from economies of scale. Additionally, they don’t receive federal subsidies, are more labor intensive, and pay for the cost of environmental cleanup. With the increasing demand of organic produce, I hope the cost will slow decline.

Is Local and Organic the same thing? NO, although 17% of people believe that foods labeled as “organic” were also grown locally and 23% of people believe that local produce is grown organically. Locally grown and organic are two different things although local food can be grown organically...and organic food can be local. However, remember that Organic has USDA-approved rules, certification, and enforcement while “local” has none of those. It is basically whatever your farmers market, restaurant, grocery store decides 'local' to be.

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What's the deal with labeling on eggs? Ugggh...so many labels with confusing guidelines. When possible, get your eggs from the farmers you know because words like humane, cage-free, non-GMO doesn't say much about the quality of eggs. I'd highly suggest you to read this Guide to Eggs.Does conventional milk have hormones and antibiotics? Both conventional and organic milk have naturally occurring hormone called Bovine somatotropin (BST) or bovine growth hormone (BGH) that helps cows produce milk. rBST, a synthetic copy of this hormone, is given to cows by dairy farmers to boost milk production and is approved by the FDA as safe for use. It is however banned in European Union, Canada, and some other countries. Whether this hormone has any health implications or not seems controversial/inconclusive at this time...According to the Dairy Council of California, BST (natural or synthetic) does not have any impact on human health as 90 percent of it is destroyed by pasteurization and the remaining trace amounts are completely broken down into inactive amino acids segments in the intestine—like any other protein. However, some of the questions people asks are - "does drinking milk from rBGH-treated cows increase blood levels of growth hormone or IGF-1 in consumers?" which increases the risk of cancer. Another concern is "cows treated with rBGH tend to develop more udder infections (mastitis) and these cows are given more antibiotics than cows not given rBGH. Does this increased use of antibiotics lead to more antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and is this a health concern for people?

When it comes to organic dairy farm, the standards have to do with type of feed (it must be organic), access to outdoors and grazing (no set regulations), and treatment of the animal not necessarily with the quality of the milk itself. 

There are variety of approved-medications that are available to farmers, either over-the-counter (OTC) or through a prescription by a veterinarian to help control, prevent and treat illnesses in farm animals, both conventional or organic. If a cow in an organic herd does need to be treated with antibiotics, she is separated and not returned to the herd for a period of 12 months. In conventional herds, milk from cows that receive antibiotics is not used until tests show it is antibiotic-free.

Every tanker of milk, whether from a conventional or an organic farm, is tested for antibiotics. The whole load will be discarded if it tests positive for commonly- used antibiotics and the farmer is financially responsible for the full tanker. 

Can we talk about meat and poultry industry? Like with dairy industry, the term 'organic' is referring that animal must be fed organic food (grown with no pesticides), receive no antibiotics and be given access to the outdoors.

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Hormones are not allowed in raising hogs or poultry. Therefore, the claim "no hormones added" cannot be used on the labels of pork or poultry unless it is followed by a statement that says "Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones."

Hormone Use in Beef - Growth hormones in the form either estrogens or androgens (natural, synthetic, or plant-based) are primarily given to cattle in the form of small pellets placed under the skin in the animal’s ear. Hormone use is regulated by the FDA and used primarily to improve growth rate from 10 to 20 percent, decrease the cost of beef production by 5 to 10 percent. It allows more efficient beef production as it requires less feed and land resources.

Something to note --  natural human production of both androgens and estrogens is several thousand times the content of a generous serving of beef produced with hormone implants. Also, other common foods are naturally much higher in estrogen than implanted beef including eggs and milk. Soybean flour can contain several thousand times the estrogen activity as the same quantity of implanted beef. (see here)

Beef marketed under the label "natural" may be used on a label for meat if it does not contain any artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring ingredient, chemical preservative or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient, and the product and its ingredients are not more than minimally processed, which is the case with most beef. This definition only applies to how the meat was processed after the cattle were harvested and does not apply to how the animals were raised.

Beef with a USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)-certified “naturally raised” claim comes from cattle that have never received growth promotants or supplemental hormones, have never been administered antibiotics and were not fed animal by-products.

Beef marketed as organic beef also is not implanted and must adhere to strict organic guidelines including the feeding of organically grown feeds. This is why the cost of organic beef is very high compared to other ones. Certified organic beef can be raised on a diet of organic corn or grain or grass but they are not necessarily 100% grass-fed.[Tweet "Is Organic Food Worth It? #rdchat #healthyliving"]

BOTTOM LINE: Food industry is huge, always evolving, and often confusing. As a consumer, I want you all to understand the food choices you are making for yourself and your families regardless it is organic or conventional. As research have shown, nutritionally speaking - there are not significant differences between organic and conventional foods, however a lot of things depends upon the soil, the environment, the way cattle was raised etc.

Many government agencies and regulations are set to monitor the level of antibiotics, hormone use, pesticides etc to make sure it is safe for the general public.

If possible, get to know your farmers, visit the farm and learn about their farming practice, pesticides use etc. That's the best way to learn about your food rather than mundane labels in front of the package. Organic labeling is expensive and many farms choose to practice organic/sustainable farming without the certification, which is why learning about your farm is very important.

By all means, if you have the budget and passion to support organic farming practices, reduce your risk for pesticides/hormones/antibiotics - organic is the way to go but let's not forget the health benefits associated eating variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, and meat/plant-based proteins even if it is conventional.

No questions, just your thoughts on this topic..

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