Is organic food worth buying?

BURNING QUESTIONS

March 28, 2007|By Erica Marcus | Erica Marcus,Newsday

When I appear at speaking engagements, the question I get asked most frequently is: "Should I eat organic food?" Organic food is usually more expensive and harder to find. Is it worth the extra money and the extra effort?

There are no simple answers to these questions. But we can start by looking at the two benefits supposedly conferred by organic food: 1. It's better for you and, 2. It's better for the world.

My own opinion is that a world without chemical pesticides and animal growth hormones is probably a safer one to live in. Still, this must be weighed against the greater productivity that such agricultural advances have provided.

So, let's focus on whether organic food is better for you, and let's start with fruit and vegetables.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, organically grown plants are those grown without the use of chemical pesticides or synthetic fertilizers and processed without radiation or additives. Whether or not they contain more or better nutrients than "conventionally grown" still is being debated.

Organic fruit and vegetables are definitely better for you in at least one respect: They contain virtually no pesticides. However, not all conventional fruit and vegetables are treated with the same amounts of pesticides, so the "superiority" of organic over conventional varies widely.

The nonprofit Environmental Working Group ranked 43 common fruits and vegetables according to pesticide residue (foodnews.org). Peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines and strawberries were the worst offenders. Onions, avocados, frozen corn, pineapples, mangoes, asparagus and frozen peas were found to be low in pesticides.

Erica Marcus writes for Newsday.

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