Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Organic - To Buy or Not to Buy

The "organic dilemma" conversation has came up with a co-worker a couple times in the last few weeks. She heard or was told to alwyays buy this organic or buy that organic and she wasn't sure if it was absolutely necessary. Organic food is more expensive, there is no question. The price difference can range from 5%-50%, depending on what you're buying and where you're shopping. There is also the argument that organic food is no better for you than regular food.

A study published in the American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition in July 2009 found "a small number of differences in nutrient content [...] between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs, but these are unlikely to be of any public health relevance".

The study does not address the issue of pesticides. I don't know about you, but I don't buy organic vegetables thinking my organic carrot has more vitamin A than a conventionally grown carrot. I buy the organic carrot thinking it contains no pesticide or other chemical residue. Is the organic carrot healthier for me? No, probably not. Do I feel better about eating it? Absolutely.

The U.S. Dept of Agriculture periodically monitors and tests produce from around the world for chemical residue. The foods then get a rating on a scale of 100. A low rating means less chemical reside and a high rating means more residue. They also found that even after washing, some fruits and vegetables carry much higher levels of pesticide residue than others.

Based on the analysis of over 100,000 residue tests, the USDA came up with the "dirty dozen" - the top 12 produce items that should always be bought organic due to high levels of chemical residue found on the conventional product.(MSNBC.)

The Dirty Dozen:

* Apples (in 2005 Apples rated 89 out of 100!)
* Cherries
* Imported Grapes
* Nectarines
* Peaches
* Pears
* Raspberries
* Strawberries
* Bell peppers
* Celery
* Potatoes
* Spinach

On the flip side, the USDA also published the top 12 produce items that tested the lowest for chemical residue. They say it is not necessary to buy these items in organic form.

The "Clean" Dozen:

* Bananas
* Kiwi
* Mangos
* Papaya
* Pineapples
* Asparagus
* Avocado
* Broccoli
* Cauliflower
* Corn
* Onions
* Peas

If you look at the two lists, a common theme comes up that can help you remember when to buy organic. This isn't always the case, but it is a good rule of thumb. If you are going to eat the skin, buy organic. If you are going to peel it, buy conventional.

If you enjoy scientific data, read the USDA Pesticide Data Program Report, 2006.


  1. Thank you!

    I also noticed that the "Clean" ones tend to be tropical. Which brings up a whole other popular, but related, topic of debate; buying local.

  2. Yes local eating. Another post for another day. I am very interested in local and sustainable agriculture and food production... however I think that is a topic best saved for Spring and Summer. I am NOT a fan of local winter foods. BOOORING. :)


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