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What is organic?

By H.K. Jones

Foods that carry the "USDA Organic" seal have been cultivated and processed without the use of most conventional pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers, genetically modified organisms and irradiation. Sewage sludge is prohibited and animals are raised on 100 percent organic feed and are not given antibiotics or growth hormones.

However, organic does not mean more nutritious. You get as much beta carotene from a conventional carrot as an organic one. Organic is also not synonymous with "healthy." Organic foods can be loaded with saturated fat, sugar and calories. Organic cookies, for example, are still, well, fatty, sugary cookies. Also keep in mind that something labeled "natural" is not necessarily organic.

So why buy organic?

Organic food is good for the environment, good for small-scale farmers and good for the farm workers who produce it. Unlike conventional farming, organic farming does not erode and deplete the soil, and produces less pollution of land, water, and air. Organic farming is also less likely to endanger wildlife.

According to Rob Rutledge, radiation oncologist, pesticides have been linked to cancer, asthma, respiratory problems, immune allergies and reproductive anomalies. Substituting organic for conventional produce can lower the level of pesticides in your body.

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit research group based in Washington, D.C., the following fresh fruits and vegetables are consistently the most contaminated with pesticides and should be bought organic when possible:
<•> Apples
<•> Bell Peppers
<•> Celery
<•> Cherries
<•> Grapes
<•> Nectarines
<•> Peaches
<•> Pears
<•> Potatoes
<•> Red Raspberries
<•> Spinach
<•> Strawberries

When organic is not available, it’s best to buy fruits and vegetables with low pesticide loads. According to the EWG, these fresh fruits and vegetables consistently have the lowest levels of pesticides:
<•> Asparagus
<•> Avocados
<•> Bananas
<•> Broccoli
<•> Cauliflower
<•> Corn
<•> Kiwi
<•> Mangos
<•> Onions
<•> Papaya
<•> Pineapples
<•> Peas

But don’t let pesticides scare you from eating fruits and vegetables. Ultimately, you are better off eating fruits and veggies with pesticides, than not eating them at all. Of course, you should wash them thoroughly.