Do You Know What's Organic?
The Federal Government is taking steps to make sure you do.
March 23, 2000 (Berkeley, Calif.) -- For Linda Corrado, stepping into
Manhattan's Agata & Valentina gourmet food store used to be a field day.
Fresh purple potatoes, crook-necked yellow squash, and fruits and vegetables of
every sort screamed for her attention. Aromas of fresh focaccia and marzipan
fruit tarts wafting by her nose lured her in. And the plentiful samples of
everything from salty Greek olives to crunchy French cornichons tempted and
tingled her palate.
But things are different for the 31-year-old Manhattan resident now that
she's a mother of two. Corrado's food choices are no longer ruled by mere taste
or momentary cravings. Overpowering is her maternal duty to provide healthy
food for her children. To her, that means ensuring that the produce she buys is
"I really buy organics for Giulietta," Corrado says, referring to
her two-year-old daughter. "When I choose organics, I'm making a decision
for her health."
That decision could become easier now that the U.S. Department of
Agriculture (USDA) has unveiled a set of guidelines intended to instill some
law and order in the loosely regulated organic produce industry. The new
guidelines aim to assure consumers like Corrado that the organic produce they
select has indeed been grown without toxic pesticides or herbicides, synthetic
fertilizer, and hormones.
Produce grown from genetically engineered seeds and sewage sludge fertilizer
and those that are irradiated would also not qualify as organic. It's a
chemical-free approach to farming, one that has caused the fast-growing
industry to boast yearly sales in the billions.
The growth has, in part, leaned on consumers' assumptions that organic
produce is "more healthy" and that it's wholly free of disease-causing
pesticides and herbicides. Unfortunately, such confidence has been misplaced,
says Holly Givens, a spokesperson for the Organic Trade Association. While
tests have shown that most organic fruits and vegetables have lower levels of
synthetic pesticides, they still show some contamination, either from chemicals
seeping in from previously contaminated soil, blown in from adjacent fields, or
from contaminated rainwater.
The new proposal can't "control the wind and the rain," Givens says.
It could, however, put to rest any questions people like Corrado have about
what they're getting for the extra money they're shelling out.