Is organic always the best pick when it comes to buying food?
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By Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY
When thoughts turn to New Year's resolutions, losing weight may not be the only option people consider. Some might ponder the virtues of eating more organic. And they will have company.
Sales of organic foods rose 5.1% in 2009 and now make up almost 4% of total U.S. food sales, according to the Organic Trade Association. Sales of organic fruits and vegetables are projected to grow by 13% yearly next year and the year after, and sales of organic food overall by 7%, says Barbara Haumann of the association.
But in this age of locovorism (eating locally), food miles (how far food travels from farm to eater), farmers markets and organic TV dinners, consumers and farmers who've explored the righteousness of organic foods increasingly find the pros and cons are not quite as green and white as the U.S. Department of Agriculture's organic food label makes it seem.
Are the amounts of pesticide found on conventionally grown foods so low that it doesn't warrant the extra expense that comes with organically grown produce? Are the foods more nutritious? Because organics take relatively more farmland, will the planet be able to support the needed production?
And what do we have in mind when we think organics, anyway? Does it have to be a plate of kale and a side of tofu, or can it be an organic toaster pastry? Is it little, sustainable family farms or big industrial organic farms that supply supermarkets and Walmart?
The answer to all of these questions turns out to be pretty unsatisfying: It depends.
The easiest question to answer is whether organic foods have less pesticide residue than conventionally grown foods. The answer is a pretty clear yes. It is also well-documented that children who eat a predominantly organic diet have lower levels of pesticide residue in their bodies, says Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University in New York City.
"Then the question is 'Does it matter?' and now you're into really difficult science. And in the absence of science, you're dealing with ideology."