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ORGANIC BEVERAGES
A SIP OF NATURE

As the saying goes, you are what you eat and drink, and swigging down a glass of ordinary apple juice-along with the pesticide residue it may contain-isn't the way most health-conscious consumers want to hydrate their cells. Thanks to a boom in the organic beverage industry, "organic" labels are overtaking their conventional counterparts on natural foods store shelves. Concerns over the personal and environmental side-effects of consuming food grown using synthetic chemicals and pesticides (which include insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides) are leading more and more people to fill their shopping carts with not only organically grown produce, but also processed foods that wear an organic label-including all kinds of beverages, from coffee, tea, and juice, to soda, soymilk, and even cocoa.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that US farmers douse their fields with a billion pounds of pesticides a year. The results? Larger yields and blemish-free apples and oranges, but also nutrient-poor soil, contaminated groundwater, and pesticide residue on food that has been linked to everything from reproductive disorders to cancer. Organic foods are grown without synthetic chemicals or pesticides using sustainable agricultural methods, which means the soil is replenished-not robbed-of nutrients in the growing process.

An Organic A-Peel

In terms of personal health, chemical residue can be washed or peeled off the surface of some produce. Odwalla, which makes both conventional and organic fresh juice products, requires suppliers of conventionally grown carrots, apples, and other washable produce to provide documentation that their foods are free of pesticide residue. Farming methods become particularly significant, however, with other types of plants, including aloe vera, which takes everything in through its roots. "If you spray aloe with an herbicide, the chemical literally goes right into the plant," says George Farias of Lily of the Desert, a producer of certified organic aloe drinks. "You can't just rinse it off."

The appeal of organics goes far beyond individual health. "Making an organic product is a real social responsibility," stresses Donna Maltz, president of AH! LASKA! Cocoa Co. Inc. "If we're selling people a health food item, our consciousness must go all the way back to the soil. It's not just about personal health or nutrition. What about the whole ecosystem that is subjected to pesticides?" Maltz produces a kid-pleasing product like cocoa to bring the organic message right to the source of the future-children. "Through cocoa, I can teach children about the importance of the foods they eat, not just for themselves, but so they can learn to make conscientious choices about the planet."

When selecting an organic beverage, be sure to look for the word "certified" organic on the label. Certified organic products have been approved by a third-party organic certification agency, which has reviewed the production process from the farm to the bottle. "We check the process on four levels," says Joe Smillie of Quality Assurance International, one of the leading certification agencies. "Ingredients coming into the processing facility must be certified organic, with written verification provided by growers. The processing facility must have the ability to clearly segregate organic ingredients from the conventional. Organic ingredients must not touch surfaces that have been cleaned with synthetic sanitation chemicals. And we look for a thorough paper trail, with daily records that show such things as double rinses of organic ingredients." Purists should also check the actual ingredients on the label; the organic certification may only apply to a specific item, such as the soybeans in soymilk but not the sweetener.

CONTINUED ON NEXT PAGE -->Written by: Jean Linsteadt


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