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Do You Know What's Organic?

The Federal Government is taking steps to make sure you do.

What to Do in the Meantime?

Until the guidelines are in place, Givens suggests that shoppers look for labels reading "certified organic." The term refers to produce meeting the production standards of one of 45 independent third-party programs that establish standards for organic products. To qualify, the vast majority of these programs require farmers to have used organic farming techniques, such as not using toxic pesticides and fertilizers, for at least three years. The programs mostly differ on how far organic fields must be from fields using conventional techniques.

"The label means that somebody has come into the facility and inspected it," Givens says.

Shoppers may also want to read labels and check the product for seals or symbols that indicate the produce complies with the government's general health and safety requirements.

Straightening Out the Public's Perception

Even when organic foods begin to carry official federal seals, it's doesn't mean that the foods are more nutritious, says Laurie Demerit of the market research firm The Hartman Group. Consumers mistakenly believe that organic-grown food provides more vitamins and minerals, while there is no scientific evidence that this is true, she says.

Several years ago, the firm found that people who bought organic produce and products did so to support an environmentally sensitive approach to farming. "Today they're saying it's better for their health and that of their kids," Demeritt says. "People seem to like the idea and the lifestyle of 'organic.' They're almost doing it as a social thing -- they want to be in that lifestyle niche."

The main reason to buy organic, Givens says, is to support the environment. "When people choose organic they're working to preserve water resources and prevent the kinds of agriculture-related problems that have started to pop up," she says. "Consumers can make a choice for a better environment."

The choice couldn't be more simple for Corrado. For her, it's a matter of watching her children thrive and grow, without having to worry about potentially hazardous chemicals.

Christine Cosgrove is a freelance writer who specializes in health and medical issues. She has worked as a reporter for UPI in New York City and as a senior editor at Parenting Magazine. She lives in Berkeley, California.

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