USDA Says What Is and Isn't Organic
Rules or No Rules, the Debate Rages On
Natalie is pleased that Uncle Sam has come up with uniform
standards for organic foods. Even with the understanding that organic products
may contain some pesticides, she still prefers the specialty items to the
"There has been some cancer, childhood autism, and
Asperger's Syndrome in our family," she explains. "I just wonder if it
might not be linked to all the preservatives [in regular products]."
Her concern strikes at the root of a longstanding dispute over
whether eating organic is better for people and the environment.
Christine Bruhn, PhD, a food science expert with the Institute
of Food Technologists, says at least 60% of consumers believe that organics are
safer, more nutritious, and better for the environment. To her knowledge,
however, there are no valid scientific data to back up those beliefs.
Yet, Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers
Association, points to what he says are thousands of consumer reports showing
that regular products have three to four times more pesticide residue compared
with organic items. The pesticide use, he claims, is not only harmful to the
soil used for crops, but dangerous for people. "Every fourth time a child
reaches for a conventional apple in America," he says, "they're getting
a level of pesticide residue that even the EPA finds troublesome."
Bruhn counters that organic foods can be produced using the
same compounds as non-organic ones. The only difference, she says, is the
source of the substance. "A particular chemical can be approved for organic
if it is derived from a natural source," she explains. "That same
chemical, when derived from a laboratory, is not approved. So how can one say
that one is better for the environment than the other if the chemical is the
Organic is merely a philosophy of growing something in
partnership with nature, says Bruhn, adding that the new organic rule is good
news for people who want to support that viewpoint.
On the other hand, Cummins says the current organic policies
don't go far enough to address whether something is produced using fair labor
and trade practices, or whether it is grown locally or regionally. "It's
dangerous over time when you set minimum standards and you call them a
ceiling," he says.
A full text of the government's national organic food standards
can be found on the USDA Web