ORGANIC FOODS HAVE
The debate has raged for years: Do organically grown foods contain fewerpesticides than conventionally raised foods? According to a just-released, major researchstudy, the answer is a resounding yes. The study is the first, detailed comparative analysis ofpesticide residue data for produce grown organically and conventionally.
The research team included scientists from the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI),an independent organic-agriculture research, education and evaluation organizationheadquartered in Eugene, Ore., and Consumers Union (CU), the Yonkers, N.Y.-basedpublisher of Consumer Reports magazine. The team’s findings were just released in 2002,in the peer-reviewed journal Food Additives and Contaminants.
The researchers analyzed test data on pesticide residues in more than 94,000 organic and nonorganicfood samples of some 20 different crops tested over nearly a decade. Data wereobtained from three independent sources: tests undertaken by CU in 1997 on selected foods;surveys conducted by the Pesticide Data Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture onresidues in a wide array of foods available on the U.S. market; and California Department ofPesticide Regulation surveys of residues in foods sold in California.
"Our research confirms what organic farmers have known all along, but now we have the datato back it up," said Brian Baker, Ph.D., OMRI research director and the study’s lead researcher. "Organic food clearly offers consumers the best choice to avoid pesticides in theirdiets."
The study was co-authored by Baker, along with OMRI board member Charles M. Benbrook,Ph.D., Benbrook Consulting Services; Karen L. Benbrook, M.S., Ecologic, Inc.; and EdwardGroth III, Ph.D., senior scientist at Consumers Union.
While fewer pesticide residues were found on all organic samples, some might question whythere were any residues found at all. According to Baker, 'organic' is not a pesticide-freeclaim, due to many factors beyond the control of the organic farmer. Most residues in organicsamples appear because of pesticide spray drift from adjacent fields, or soil or irrigation-watercontamination, he noted.
"Mislabeling and occasional fraud also clearly account for some of the organic samples thattested positive for residues," Baker said. As an example, he referred to a Mexican sample of'organic' sweet bell peppers that contained six different pesticide residues.
Implications of Research
The researchers noted that organic farming systems offer both organic and conventionalfarmers proven methods to lessen pest populations and pesticide use, and thus, also reduce thepesticide risks faced by farm workers and consumers.
"Based on my experience studying the impacts of federal pesticide laws and regulations, I amconvinced that pest management innovation will reduce pesticide risks faster and moredecisively than regulation," Benbrook said. "Clearly, organic farmers are well representedamong those breaking the trail toward more biologically based, low-risk pest managementsystems."
The researchers also noted that organic farmers and certifiers could benefit from routineaccess to information on pesticide residues found in organic food samples tested bygovernment programs. Early detection of residues would help certifiers, growers, and theorganic food trade identify and deal with instances and locations where pesticide drift or soilcontamination is leading to detectable residues in organic foods.
What is organic food?
Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewableresources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmentalquality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy productscome from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled "organic"a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown tomake sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organicstandards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to yourlocal supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.
Is organic food better for me and my family?
USDA makes no claims that organically produced food is safer or morenutritious than conventionally produced food. Organic food differs fromconventionally produced food in the way it is grown, handled, and processed.
When I go to the supermarket, how can I tell organically produced food fromconventionally produced food?
You must look at package labels and watch for signs in thesupermarket. Along with the national organic standards, USDA developed strictlabeling rules to help consumers know the exact organic content of the food theybuy. The USDA Organic seal also tells you that a product is at least 95percent organic.
Look for the word "organic" and a small sticker version of the USDA Organic seal on vegetables orpieces of fruit. Or they may appear on the sign above the organic producedisplay.
The word "organic"and the seal may also appear on packages of meat, cartons of milk or eggs,cheese, and other single-ingredient foods.
Foods with more than one ingredient
The the four labeling categories.Cerealwith 100 percent organic ingredients; cereal with 95-100 percent organicingredients; cereal made with at least 70 percent organic ingredients; andcereal with less than 70 percent organic ingredients. Products with less than 70percent organic ingredients may list specific organically produced ingredientson the side panel of the package, but may not make any organic claims on the front of the package. Look for the name and address of the Government-approved certifier on all packaged products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients.
Will I find the USDA Organic seal on all 100 percent organic products,or products with at least 95 percent organic ingredients?
No. The use of the seal is voluntary.
How is use of the USDA Organic seal protected?
People who sell or label a product "organic"when they know it does not meet USDA standards can be fined up to $10,000 foreach violation.
Does natural mean organic?
No. Natural and organic are not interchangeable. Other truthfulclaims, such as free-range, hormone-free, and natural, can still appearon food labels. However, don'tconfuse these terms with "organic".Only food labeled "organic"has been certified as meeting USDA organic standards.
For more detailed information on the USDA organic standards, visit our website at http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop, callthe National Organic Program at 202-720-3252, or write USDA-AMS-TM-NOP, Room4008 S. Bldg., Ag Stop 0268, 1400 Independence, SW, Washington, DC 20250.
Written by: USDA
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