Friday, 1 October 2010

Buying Organic

Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

Ideally, we would produce almost all of our own food, but in reality, we're still buying grocery items and some produce each week to feed our family. There's a whole checklist of criteria when shopping for the family - local, organic, less-packaging, no additives... Never before has something as basic as feeding the family required so much research and thought.

Certified Organic grocery items – food, home and personal care items – do not contain residue of the harmful chemicals that the EPA considers to be carcinogens (60% of all herbicides, 90% of all fungicides and 30% of all insecticide). These chemicals are designed to kill living organisms. In humans, they are implicated in cancers, birth defects, nerve damage and genetic mutations. Not only are our families at risk, but our country’s farmers, their families, their neighbours and all living creatures around farms are also at risk.

Certified Organic products are not only made without the use of synthetic chemicals and irradiation, they are also GMO-free and don’t contain harmful preservatives or artificial ingredients. Children are particularly at risk from these residues, processes and additives because the levels of safety are set at an adult level. A study of young children in New York showed that those who didn’t eat organic food had over 300 different chemicals in their urine. Those who did eat organic had about 12. It’s what’s missing from Certified Organic products that make them good for you.

Our bodies absorb significant amounts of what we put on our skin, in our hair, and brush our teeth with, etc. It is estimated that the average Australian adult is exposed to 126 chemicals through their personal care products, every day. If you are concerned about the chemicals your family are absorbing through their skin, you can reduce the number of products you purchase, opting instead for a few old-fashioned basic options, and you can also seek out Certified Organic products through your supermarket, pharmacy or local health stores. After switching to more natural alternatives for awhile, most people find that the highly scented, chemical-laden products no longer appeal to them.

Australia’s organic industry is regulated the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS). Professional Certification bodies are responsible for certifying products as organic or biodynamic. Look for the certification logos on organic grocery items to know that growers and producers have fulfilled the stringent certification requirements. Imported products will also carry Certified Organic logos recognised by their own country and approved by AQIS.

It is legal in Australia for products to carry a brand name or description “Organic” without actually being a certified product or even in any way more natural or less harmful than other products on the shelf. In the case of a bottle of shampoo, for one example, a tiny percentage of its ingredients may be botanically derived, yet the label can legally imply that the shampoo inside is “natural, organic, herbal, botanical”. The only way to tell if you’re eating or using a certified organic product is to a) grow or make it yourself from 100% Organic ingredients or b) look for the AQIS-approved logo on the packaging. There is a push for truth within labelling, and it is expected that the use of the term “Organic” will be more limited on Australian products in the future.

Buying organic is also a blessing for the environment. Industrial farming uses more fossil fuel than organic farming because the energy required to produce artificial fertilisers and other chemicals outweighs that used in tilling, cultivating, harvesting crops and transporting and refrigerating products. Organic farming prevents soil erosion, promotes biodiversity and keeps water clean. In practice, it nourishes the soil, which nourishes the plants and animals that nourish our bodies. Simple.

A lot of families would love to buy Certified Organic, but believe that the cost is prohibitive. Buying organic allows us to support a true economy. Conventional grocery prices don’t reflect hidden costs borne by taxpayers, including federal subsidies. Other hidden costs include pesticide regulation and testing, hazardous waste disposal and clean-up, and environmental damage. Isn’t it easier to spend our dollars doing things the right way, and avoid those hidden costs?

Our family also finds that a lot of organic food is more nutrient-dense and therefore we eat less of it. One example is a 375g pack of Organic Wholemeal Spelt Pasta. Our children enjoy this pasta because it actually has substance and flavour, and in our large family, this small packet goes a lot further than a 500g packet of white wheat pasta from the supermarket. It is true that I will pay more than twice as much for the organic product, but for me, the numerous benefits outweigh the extra cost.
There are various lists suggesting the items to buy organic, here is one example of six important food products from a large Australian supplier Organic Oz:

1. Apples
2. Bread
3. Carrots
4. Baby food
5. Dairy food
6. Rice

Of course there are the other issues of food miles, additives, packaging and so on. How important is it to you that your food and other grocery products are Organic? Do you find labeling confusing? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts and experiences.