As a dietitian, I rarely recommend anything to a client that I wouldn't do myself. I'm a very reasonable person in terms of what I eat and what I choose to feed my family, and I pride myself on not being one of those over the top moms who neurotically deny their kids anything sweet or non-organic. In addition to that, those who know me know that I have an opinion or two about most things in this world. So when it came to eating and recommending organic food, my previous stance was, 'it's not going to make a difference'.
There have been no definitive studies proving that organic food is significantly higher in nutrients than non-organic (keep in mind we're talking about organic, not local -- those are two different things), and because of the price point and lack of evidence I felt was relevant to prove that Organic is better, I was reluctant to recommend it as well as to buy it for my own family. (Should I insert the hashtag #rdconfessions here?)
Things have changed for me over the past year though, and I have to admit that I have had a change of heart.
I became a spokesperson for CLIF Bar in Canada, and as their products are at least 70 per cent organic, I became better educated about organic farming, seeds, and crops, and their impact on the environment, and on us as the consumer.
In my quest to learn more about organic for my nutrition practice, I got schooled in the variety of organic products that are available, and how, like conventional products, some are healthy, and some are just junk with a health halo.
Through my research about organic foods and in speaking to some farmers and apiarists, I discovered more about GMO foods, which led me to change my mind about eating organic.
My position on GMOs is that they should be labeled, and in Canada, they are not. In Canada and the United States, however, if a label states that a food is organic, this means that the product doesn't contain GMOs. So if you're in Canada, and you don't want to eat GMOs, you need to buy organic. I've always thought that GMO labeling is a good idea -- I mean, why not know what's in your food? Why all the secrecy?
My problem with GMOs is that of pesticides. I recently learned that the seeds of many conventional grains, fruits, and vegetables are treated with "systemic pesticides", which then grow into all parts of the plant, including the parts we eat. Systemic pesticides have been in the news lately because they're being implicated in the deaths of millions of bees, and when bees die, 75% of the crops we eat don't get pollinated, which is deadly to the plants and to the ecosystem.
It has been found that at least 90 per cent of these pesticides don't even go into the crops; they go into the environment: the soil, the water, and the animals who eat the coated seeds, crawl in the contaminated ground, and swim in the contaminated water. Seeds are also pre-treated with chemicals to accelerate their growth. It's like a chemistry lab on your plate and in the ecosystem, and my kids had been eating this stuff, which made me a bit suspicious. Chemicals that are on the outside of food can be washed off. Systemic pesticides are literally grown right into the fruits and vegetables that we eat, and the only way to avoid them is to buy Organic produce and grains. Even Organic produce has been shown to contain some external pesticide residue that is transferred by the wind from conventional crops; nevertheless, they contain far less than conventional and do not have the systemic pesticides.
Another interesting fact -- GMO corn is used as a pesticide, and is actually regulated by the FDA as a pesticide. Wait now, so the corn my kid has been eating is actually a pesticide? I'm pretty sure the government has a nice placating statement about how safe this food is, but I'm really not ready to listen, because of thought recurring in my head: why are these chemicals banned in Europe, if they're completely safe? What do they know that we don't?
Of course, the reasonable side of me remains a bit conflicted, because the price of buying organic food for 5 people is extraordinary (organic foods cost around 20 per cent more than conventional). So I buy organic when I can, and when I think it's worthwhile. Organic grain products, and most fruits and vegetables: good. Organic milk? Not necessary, because in Canada, there are no hormones or antibiotics in the milk. Organic local produce, when it's available. Organic meat: that's a whole other blog, but in short, when I can, I do buy it. We can all make small changes, one at a time.
You might have your own reasons why you choose or don't choose organic. There are several factors to consider, including price, availability, and motivation. If you educate yourself about what you're buying, then you can make the best decision for you and your family.
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