Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Studies Examine Pros and Cons of Eating Organic

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently reported that families should eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products regardless of organic certification. Based on a number of previously published research studies, the report suggested that there is no conclusive evidence that organic foods are more nutritious than conventionally grown foods.

However, buying organic is beneficial.  The AAP report cited other studies that found that organic growers produce less waste and use less energy than conventional farmers.  Organic farms also do not use synthetic pesticides that are harmful to the environment and people. Farm worker’s chronic exposure to pesticides has been associated with cancer, depression, memory disorders, respiratory problems, Parkinson’s disease, miscarriages and birth defects. The AAP report states that an organic diet can reduce exposure to pesticides.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting public and environmental health, recently published their findings on pesticides in conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. Before testing, they prepared the produce as it is typically eaten (e.g. they washed peppers or peeled bananas). They analyzed 60,700 samples from 45 common fruits and vegetables and listed the most and least contaminated.

The EWG found that the most contaminated fruits and vegetables are: apples, celery, sweet bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, imported nectarines, grapes, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, blueberries, potatoes, green beans and leafy greens.  The study found 88 different kinds of pesticides on sweet bell peppers, up to 15 on just one bell pepper.  100 percent of imported nectarines and 98 percent of apples tested contained pesticides. They also found neurotoxic insecticides on bell peppers, imported nectarines, green beans, collard greens and kale.

The fruits and vegetables lowest in pesticides according to the EWG study are: onions, sweet corn, pineapples, avocados, cabbages, sweet peas, asparagus, mangos, eggplant, kiwi, domestic cantaloupe, and sweet potatoes.  Of these, no single sample had more than 5 different pesticides present.  Only 10 percent of pineapples, 22 percent of mangos and 25 percent of kiwis tested positive for pesticides.

Although pesticides harm farm workers and laboratory animals, it is not clear that pesticides in the diet pose a health risk. As a result, the EWG and the AAP agree that eating conventionally grown fruits and vegetables is far better for your health than the consequences of avoiding them.  Organic food typically costs between 10 and 40 percent more than conventionally grown food, so buying organic can be cost prohibitive for some families. However, a growing number of Pittsburgh markets are accessible to low-income individuals.

The East End Co-op offers a 10% discount for those using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. The Citipark farmers’ markets at seven locations in Pittsburgh accepts SNAP and are open until November 21st. Farmers@Firehouse farmers’ market in the Strip District also accepts SNAP, they are open on Saturdays until November 17th. Clarion River Organics is offering a 25% discount to people paying with SNAP that want to sign up for their community supported agriculture (CSA) program. Mott Family Farm offers a 10% discount to students with a student ID.

Buying organic is good for the environment and may have health benefits by reducing pesticide exposure, but it is important to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables no matter where they come from.

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