So, Why Buy Organic?


Buying organic is no longer a fringe fad. Ten million Americans bought organic food in 1999, and, according to a recent survey by the Washington-based Hartman Group research firm, another 60 percent of all shoppers are ready to give it a try. Why? They’re attracted by what organic consumers have known for a long time: Organic foods are safer, healthier and more environmentally benign than their conventionally grown counterparts. (Vegetarian Times Mar. 2001). According to a study conducted by the USDA’s Economic Research Service, organic farming has become one of the fastest-growing segments of U.S. agriculture, more than doubled from 1992 to 1997.

Buying organic is about food, but it’s also about socially responsible values and practices. Conventional North American food production has become industrialized and heavily┬ásubsidized by the government. Organic foods must meet stricter regulations governing growing, harvesting, transportation, and storage. Organic prices represent the real cost of food raised in a sustainable manner. The process is labor-and management-intensive, and farming tends to be on a smaller scale. As the organic market grows, multinational corporations are buying out organic growers and brand names and competing with community-owned markets. But many members of food cooperatives are committed to supporting organic farmers and the social and environmental values they uphold: offering locally grown food for which farmers are
paid a fair price and whose sale supports farmers and families in their own community.

In December 2000 the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued national standards for organic foods, to be phased in by July 2002. Their first proposal had been criticized for being heavily influenced by agribusiness and caused an uproar when it was released in 1997. Environmentalists, animal-
rights activists and farmers hit the USDA with over 270,000 responses during the comment period.

Now a certified “100% organic” label means that the product contains no genetically modified organisms and was produced and processed with no chemical pesticides, preservatives, irradiation or sewage sludge. The USDA has also drawn up an elaborate set of rules for labeling organic
livestock (except fish). For example, chickens must be raised on organic feed, without growth hormones or antibiotics, and with access to the outdoors.

Organic consumers are concerned about food safety, especially for children. The Environmental Protection Agency declares that “children are at greater risk of pesticide exposure than most adults,” and warns that “pesticides may cause a range of harmful health effects,” including cancer
and injury to the nervous system, lungs, and immune system.

Preliminary results of an ongoing French study comparing the nutritional qualities of food stemming from various farming practices indicate that organic is ahead in terms of nutritional quality and micronutrients essential for good health: vitamins A, C, E, vitamins of the B group, and other elements such as zinc, calcium, and fiber.