Upon walking into a trendy grocery store the other day, I was dumbfounded by the array of highly marketed products staring back at me from with brightly colored packaging. Sugarless candy, fat-free sour cream, low-carb donuts and of course the ever-growing bevy of organic products awaiting the consumer with a conscience.
According to Merriam-Webster’s first definition, your "organic" apple qualifies since it comes from a living organism, a tree. And what of the other variety of apple? Dare I say, "inorganic"? Of course penicillin also qualifies as organic, because it’s now produced by genetically modified bacteria (a living organism). What about tetrodotoxin, the poison produced by Fugu, the puffer fish? Yep, organic. Well, these products must be good for you, right? After all, marketers would have you believe everything that carries the title "organic" must be healthy, or at least earth-friendly. I suppose a toxin that kills off a bunch of people on this overcrowded planet could be considered "earth-friendly."
The point is that the term "organic" is used too loosely, and the label "organic" should not be the only basis when making purchasing decisions.
Products that are referred to as "organic" are actually organically grown, or produced. Therefore, using definition 3a, does this mean it’s OK to use any fertilizers and any pesticides, just as long as they are of animal or plant origin? There’s no doubt that plants and animals can produce some toxic stuff.
1. of, relating to, or derived from living organisms: organic matter.
2. of, relating to, or affecting a bodily organ: an organic disease.
3. a. of, marked by, or involving the use of fertilizers or pesticides that are strictly of animal or vegetable origin: organic vegetables; an organic farm.b. raised or conducted without the use of drugs, hormones or synthetic chemicals: organic chicken; organic cattle farming. c. serving organic food: an organic restaurant. d. simple, healthful and close to nature: an organic lifestyle.
4. a. having properties associated with living organisms.b. resembling a living organism in organization or development; interconnected: society as an organic whole.
5. constituting an integral part of a whole; fundamental.
6. in law, denoting or relating to the fundamental or constitutional laws and precepts of a government or an organization.
7. in chemistry, of or designating carbon compounds.
Further muddying the water, ideas vary on to what extent farm products can be produced using human-synthesized material and still remain "organically grown." The USDA does regulate the use of the term "organic" and has agents who check to see if farming practices comply with the national standards so that the term "organic" can be used on the product label. Even if a product is not "certified organic," producers can still use the label but only if their gross income from the product is under a fixed amount. Punishment for misuse of the label "organic" carries a fine of up to $10,000.
Let’s stop and think about getting in our cars and driving to the trendy supermarket chain to shop for our organic products. Hmm, the store seems awfully small to be growing and producing all these products. How did all these products and most of these shoppers get here? The internal combustion engine! Yes, unless you walked, biked or took the bus, everything is dependant on the automobile, truck, etc. Now, there are lights inside the store, right? That electricity had to be produced somehow. The idea is that there are lots of organic, inorganic, but simply toxic emissions being dumped into the environment one way or another. If you know anything about the earth and environmental systems, you know that everything is connected. So, unless the entire farmland, water supply and air supply is totally cut off from the rest of the world, these pollutants are going to be incorporated into the food supply.
It does not matter how hard you try, or pray: We are all ingesting toxic material as we eat and breathe – that’s the bottom line. Even organically grown items may contain a certain amount of pollutants. Considering our food travels more than we do, maybe we should consider the pollutants from transporting it. Those are the same pollutants that affect us all, including the organic farmers. The goal should be to not add more to our diet and to the environment than we have to.
There is a solution. Buy things made, grown and produced locally, regardless of farming and processing practices. More than likely those products have less impact on the planet and local environment. Really, who wants to pollute their own backyards? It is better to support the local economy that supports me, than to pollute the earth with products from all corners of the planet.
Seth Lewin can be reached at [email protected]