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Today’s consumers may find a large variety of certified-organic produce, meats and other foods in traditional “health food” stores, ...

Organic Foods

Today’s consumers may find a large variety of certified-organic produce, meats and other foods in traditional “health food” stores, and now even in conventional grocery stores. Two common questions
are whether it’s worth the extra price to buy organic food versus conventional, and whether we can trust the sign that says “certified
With great hesitation my answer to both questions is yes, but with an asterisk. The USDAorganic program is now part of an international phenomenon. The regulations are better than the previous unregulated organic movement, when anyone could say a product was
organic. Many of the guidelines are potentially good for consumers — organic animals must be raised with organic feed, filtered water and certified organic pastures, and many commonly used drugs can’t be used. Organic produce must be grown without commonly used pesticides,
herbicides and other chemicals. Many food product ingredients — additives, chemicals, preservatives and others are not allowed in organic foods. And, the program is relatively strict, helping to rid the market of dishonest vendors. So if a product has the USDAorganic label, it’s as good as the USDA’s ability to police the program, just like the rest of what the agency does for all foods sold to consumers.
But like the rest of our food supply, you have to be a careful consumer, reading labels and being aware of and avoiding organic junk food, which makes up most of today’s organic products.
True to Jerome Irving Rodale’s ideas of the mid 1900s, organic food is better, whether certified or not.
 For example, organic vegetables and fruits usually taste better. They’ve not been genetically
altered, and contain much smaller amounts of chemical fertilizers, or none at all. Moreover, many studies indicate that organic produce is more nutritious, containing more vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Some of the nutrients studied in organic produce were twice that of conventional equivalents. 
Many vegetables have been studied,including carrots, cabbage, lettuce, kale, tomatoes and spinach, with a variety of fruits studied by various researchers. The increased nutrients found in certified-organic vegetables and fruits are most likely due to better care of the soil through organic farming methods, including composting, crop rotation and cover crops.
I’ve also conducted my own research and found that some organically grown vegetables had significantly higher levels — 10 times or more — of certain nutrients such as folic acid, compared to the same vegetables tested and listed in the USDA database.
For years, nutritionists insisted that today’s conventionally grown foods were as high in vitamins and minerals as the meals of our grandparents. There is now sufficient evidence indicating this is
not necessarily the case. Reductions in food quality have taken place since the mid-1940s, when the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides rapidly became the norm in U.S. farming. A study in the British
Food Journal compared the 1930s nutrient content of 20 fruits and vegetables with foods grown in the 1980s. Significant reductions were found in the levels of calcium, copper and magnesium in vegetables; and magnesium, iron, copper and potassium in fruit. Similar trends
can be found in foods produced in the United States, with reductions in some nutrients of as much as 30 percent.
Most foods are farmed with chemical fertilizers and pesticides, with the exception of certified organic foods, which contain significantly less nitrates and heavy metals, both of which can be very
harmful, especially to children. Heavy metals enter the plants through certain chemical fertilizers  some of these fertilizers are even derived from industrial waste. As discussed earlier, important phytonutrients have been genetically engineered out of some common foods to make them less bitter. Organically grown foods don’t contain genetically engineered ingredients or genetically modified
organisms, making them a better choice. Then there’s another factor to consider when choosing organic food. Many of the foods in grocery stores are imported. The countries
of origin may not have as stringent restrictions regarding the use of fertilizers and especially pesticides as we have in this country. In fact, some countries still allow the use of pesticides that were banned decades ago in the United States. Choosing organic produce eliminates
this potential problem.
When shopping for organic food, watch out for the organic junk food — it’s all over the store! Buy the basics — real food. This includes vegetables, fruits, meats, nuts, seeds, cheese and eggs.

Buy Local?

With the problems in the organic industry, including the dilution of a strict standard in growing and producing the cleanest and highest quality foods, and the added costs due to the certification process,
many truly health-conscious consumers once again are looking for healthy options. They’re seeing the potential of the traditional farmer’s markets, community organic cooperatives, roadside farm
stands, and “pick-your-own” programs. Internet shopping for organic food is growing, especially in bulk quantity. These modern markets feature products grown in a “green” way — produced in line with the original organic movement despite having the name taken away by
the USDA and other agencies worldwide. And, they often include a
“buy local” slogan.
The problem is there is no regulation regarding whether it’s “green,” organic or beyond organic. One result is that, in some cases, authorities have stopped farmers from selling their products. Another
problem is the notion that products that are better than organic — the “beyond organic” movement — should be more expensive. But just because products are grown with care, without chemicals, doesn’t mean they should be more expensive. Without the “middlemen” — typically two, three or more of them taking a share before products get to the retail stores, most of these products should be less expensive
than the same or similar products in retail stores. Despite these issues, if you’re a careful consumer and talk to the farmers and those producing these products, and even visit their farms, you can usually find high-quality healthy products that are often better than the organic versions in retail stores, often for less cost. Supply and demand will help weed out the overpriced products.
Virtually all the food I buy is organic, although more and more is not USDA-certified organic. And I buy the basics — vegetables, fruits, meat, eggs, cheese, nuts and seeds. The most impressive operation
I’ve seen is the Double Check Ranch in central Arizona, where I buy all my beef. While they don’t participate in the national organic program, I have inspected their ranch and would certify them as “beyond organic.” This ranch is clean, efficient, inspected by local government, and has a philosophy of not just producing healthy food, but incorporates an approach to farming that’s good for the
land as well. (Their website provides many informative articles I buy fresh eggs from a local producer that’s not certified organic, but the eggs are better than the ones that are certified. I also buy food from local farmer’s markets if I know the food is from a good
source. And I have bulk items shipped. Most of these foods are cheaper than the organic versions in the retail stores. And, my large garden provides a significant amount of food that is also “beyond organic.”

The Organic Movement

We’re not sure just when the organic movement started. That would depend, in part, on how you define it. Certainly in the early stages, the word “organic” was not part of it. This word would not be introduced until around 1941 by a British chemist Sir Albert Howard. But
by then, the movement was decades old and had more than one front. There were those who promoted the scientific reasons for farming with a natural process; those who had more spiritual reasons to care for the land; small farmers who were being left out of big business;
those with strong social attitudes who wanted to help the “little guys” get a fair share of the profits; and consumers, who eventually had the greatest numbers and created the real change. But even before the movement was noticed, there were those few who made the observations
that growing food in the most natural soils produced better food and healthier people.
In the 1830s German chemist Justus von Liebig was formulating his agricultural biochemistry theories, which he published in the 1840s, discussing how plants utilize nitrogen in the soil along with various minerals. Natural fertilizers, he theorized, including manure, would provide these nutrients. This was the beginning of modern farming, and the movement soon branched into two: One became big business farming, with newly developing chemical fertilizers and
pesticides, and the other was the organic movement.
 Sir Albert  Howard may be one of the earliest “organic” farmers — he was from
a British farming family but learned about natural soil production and organic gardening in India in 1905.
With the influence of Howard’s writings — he called the introduction of chemical fertilizers and pesticides a great threat to the future of human health — there was a clear separation of the organic
movement and conventional farming. His writing spread throughout Europe and eventually to America.
By the early 1900s, American food manufacturers, as an integral part of the “modern farming” movement, began mass-producing the first packaged foods. This coincided with a major change from the farmer’s markets with its many single food stands, to one store that
would sell all types of food — a “super market” — complete with the latest technology of packaged foods. Small groups of concerned citizens immediately and openly protested against the mass packaging
of food. Some, including Dr. Royal Lee, began growing high quality food with natural composting, and in 1929 he began manufacturing the first dietary supplements in America using these foods.
By the 1930s, with the influence of Howard’s writings and others in America, the organic movement was organized, albeit small.
 One person who jumped on board was an engineer named Jerome Irving Rodale. He not only bought a farm and began organic gardening but started publishing a magazine on organic methods in the 1940s — and Sir Albert Howard would contribute articles. Rodale also started
a printing business that would also publish books — a business that thrives today as a multi-million-dollar corporation.
I was introduced to Rodale’s books on organic gardening in the 1960s, and soon after planted my first organic garden. As a student working part time in a health-food store, and, having studied basic
chemistry, I realized almost all the vitamins on the shelves were synthetic, not natural as they claimed. Seeing a growing market in the organic industry, the pharmaceutical companies had quietly jumped on board by producing virtually all the synthetic vitamins for the health food industry, a problem that continues today.
After studying organic gardening and natural health, and many different health-care philosophies, I decided to go back to college, become a doctor and focus on helping people get healthy.
Into the 1970s and ‘80s, the organic movement continued to hold its social, fair trade and health-oriented subgroups. Even up to the time when the USDA decided to take charge of the movement by creating a National Organic Program (NOP) in 1990 that would define organic and certify growers, manufacturers and others involved in the organic movement, there continued to be different philosophies associated with organics.
The NOP would spend the next decade gathering information from the organic movement, create standards, rules, regulations and a system to certify all those it would allow into the organic movement — often for a hefty price — under the guise that the USDA needed to
regulate the process. The result was the “certified organic” regulations, released in 2002, complete with a seal of authenticity. USDA established three levels of organic: 100 percent, 95 percent, which allowed 5 percent non-organic material, and 70 percent organic.
There was one problem: During this decade big business lobbied heavily for regulations that would make it easier and cheaper to jump on the “certified organic” bandwagon. Not only that, the large manufacturers
of processed foods, the sugar industry, large food chains and a variety of other lobbyists made sure they were part of the process.
The result was a massive growth of organic junk food that coincided with the NOP’s “organic” launch in 2002. Just before the NOP became law, I created, in 1999, the first line of
certified-organic dietary supplements made from real food. I followed the developments of the USDA’s certified organic program and prepared my formulas based on what I thought would be the requirements for organic certification. These were easily met, and today, these dietary supplements are sold by First Organics, Inc.
The Organic Trade Association (OTA) evolved from part of the movement that was the political tail. Its goal was to help companies involved in certified organic activities work with other companies
and the NOP. Unfortunately, it was a political organization not oriented to health. At its first national trade show, I was shocked at the number of organic junk food companies represented — you could
sample organic cookies made from organic white flour and organic white sugar, eat processed organic corn chips, drink organic beer, and even smoke organic cigarettes. This was the modern health food
industry! But the worst was yet to come.
There were a number of speakers discussing the value of organic certification. A keynote speaker was JI Rodale’s granddaughter, who was a main player in the Rodale publishing empire. She was so excited to see the organic movement get this far and be so successful. After
her talk, she took questions. I asked, “Are you concerned that the organic industry is made up of so much junk food that adversely affects people’s health?” Her answer was an emphatic no. She said
that people can make their own choices.
Marie Rodale’s grandfather, JI, promoted the relationship between organic farming and optimal health, and helped launch the organic movement. But now, companies making organic junk food
have become the biggest advertising revenue for the modern Rodale publishing empire. In joining with big business and the USDA, the  small farmers and start-up companies making healthy foods were left out.
Meanwhile, consumers jumped in too. They were the ones eating all the organic junk food. This was evident just by looking — at the owners, employees and others working in the “health food” industry,
including those in the stores. Go into Whole Foods, for example, and you’ll see the shelves full of organic junk. And a large part of the store is the bakery section — complete with white flour and sugar cakes, cookies and pies.
My level of disappointment in the organic movement has reached a high. My first article after returning home from the OTA show, “organic junk,” brought praise by a few but anger from industry people.
Making money, it seemed, was the goal of certified organics, even if it contributed to the explosion of obesity not only in adults, but young children. Along the way, the large companies, including manufacturers and grocery stores, along with the two “new” health food
chains, successfully pushed for the NOP regulations to be diluted — many unhealthy foods, food additives and other ingredients would now be allowed in organic foods. I began writing and lecturing more on the dangers of organic junk food, and “beyond organic” — those
small farmers, companies and consumers left out of the original organic movement who were still there hoping for healthy changes.
The organic movement had left them behind. And many legitimate farmers, manufacturers and food companies that were too small to pay the thousands of dollars to be part of the USDA’s organic movement were actually creating healthier food.
Where are we now? At the time of this writing, early in 2009, I’m very disillusioned with the government-sponsored organic programs. And because the USDA took the word “organic” for itself,
products or companies would not be allowed to use the word “organic” unless it was certified by the USDA. In addition, small farms, legitimate companies producing healthy foods and others involved in the organic movement are even being harassed by federal and local authorities because they have not embraced the movement. The result is that a small but growing movement continues, made up of consumers and health-care professionals like me, seeking the best food from good and honest people all working together for a healthier planet.
If you really want the highest-quality produce, the best option is to grow your own. If you have any yard space at all, a small vegetable plot, properly tended, can yield enough vegetables in season for your entire family. Many areas have community gardens, where many individuals share in a larger plot of land. By growing your own vegetables you can ensure their quality, reduce the price of your produce and revel in the enjoyment of producing your own food, not to mention
the extra exercise you get from working in your garden.

Vital Vegetables and Fruits

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