Win-Win with Organics

    Why All Natural, Non-GMO Is Not Enough

    My relationship with food as a health promoting entity began at an early age. When I was less than five, my mother found me at the refrigerator in the middle of the night! I was silently eating a carrot. Wondering what in the world I could be doing, she politely inquired…to which I replied “My eyes hurt!” With a smile she recalled that she had been insisting that I eat my carrots because “They are good for your eyes!” It made a lasting impression to say the least.

    Although my mother had not yet heard of Adelle Davis, she was wise enough to feature fresh fruits and vegetables at every meal and in the late 60s we began to visit the local farmers’ market. In this period we were introduced to many new and sometimes exotic vegetables not normally part of the Jolly Green Giant frozen food line. This included kale, brussel sprouts, hubbard squash, artichokes, avocados on the half shell as well as the local apples, pears, peaches and tomatoes that my mother religiously canned each summer. Simultaneously my father became a volunteer at one of the first local food coops. Shortly after, I left for college and became a vegetarian. In the process of trying new recipes, reading natural foods cookbooks and other related literature, I began to explore the important relationship between diet and good health. As a result, for more than forty years, I have favored wholesome, natural and organic foods.

    Nationally, the issue of whether or not natural foods were technically considered organic did not seem to come to the forefront until it was clear that scientists were actually conducting a widespread and unwanted experiment in the form of genetically modified foods. With the introduction of GE crops and the subsequent ethical, labeling and health issues, the importance of choosing organic became paramount, since the organic label was the only way to supposedly be certain that there were no GMOs. So in this period, the mid 1990s, the organic food and agriculture industry came out against genetic engineering and what followed was a long battle, still not won, to require clear and accurate labeling as well as a moratorium on GMO production. Little known ingredients, vitamins and more were found to be high risk for GMOs but the majority of the public remained in the dark, as activists scrambled to use the media to educate and inform as well as petitioning to congress to ban GMOs.

    On top of the GMO issue, another factor not to be ignored, was the widespread introduction of harmful pesticide use following World War II. Again, in the ideal, organic production prohibits the use of conventional pesticides and herbicides — another inspiration to choose 100 percent organic food. As a result, reading labels carefully and asking important questions about the origins of every food and ingredient consumed became more critical than ever.

    The “All-Natural” label could no longer be considered safe or sufficient to ensure that mainstream family food would meet the bill. The bar was raised such that the foods we were seeking had to be environmentally safe and “hands down” good for human health and the planet. And the ironic factor was that anything and everything one previously enjoyed in conventional or natural form, in theory and practice could and can be produced using 100 percent organic ingredients. It is simply a matter of choice.

    So why isn’t it happening?
    First and foremost — consumer demand drives market production. If the majority of consumers in the world wanted 100 percent pure organic food, it would be a giant step forward in ensuring a pure food supply for all. This acknowledges the obstacles and delays that might be caused by the need to transition conventional and GMO farmland to certified organic, cleaning up the supply chain to ensure that the organic seal really represents a 100 percent organic standard as well as removing all of the objectionable food from store shelves.

    In an ideal world, with a majority ruling to perfect our food supply, even this would take time. But the deeper issue is the quality of collective consciousness. If the collective thinking does not care about the quality of food consumed, does not see the connection between food, health, the environment and the future of the world, then it is a hard sell to make the transition. Consumer education is important, necessary and even essential. The more we can wake up the population and alert them to the important benefits of organic food production and consumption as well as the hazards of conventional, GMO and junk food, the more we can make significant progress towards a truly safe, healthy food supply. We may have to start with consumers who mistakenly think they are eating safe pure food and who in fact are not careful label readers or not highly educated on the topic and who may be thinking they are buying 100 percent organic when in fact the foods are not certified. Even non-GMO verified foods may have other questionable ingredients if they are not 100 percent organic.

    And we need to address food service — in schools, cafeterias, snack vending, health facilities, prisons, convenience stores, fast food restaurants, as well as the hospitality industry and airlines. We have to convince everyone involved in serving, distributing and marketing food as well as the growers and producers that we really want safe pure food and we want it now, without a long delay.

    Pesticide and GMO drift is an ongoing issue for even the purist organic foodies. Manufacturing contamination can also be an issue in facilities which may mill or manufacture a mix of conventional, GMO and organic grains, seeds, nuts or other products. We have to be very alert about the supply chain — seed to table because at every step of the way our food can meet with resistance in the form of unwanted or harmful influences, shipping, processing, packaging, storage environments, store environments until finally it reaches our kitchen counters, refrigerators and table.

    We have to wake up and recognize that the current organic seal does not adequately ensure that the food is 100 percent organic. The organic label and organic certification does allow up to 10 percent non-organic and when you examine the NOSB standards and requirements for food production seed to table, there are holes in the standard which can and do allow questionable and objectionable ingredients to get into our organic food.

    Where do we go from here?
    It’s a difficult question. Many of us are turning to growing our own. Many of us have become fanatic label readers and have mostly given up on packaged food. Many of us hesitate to eat out because we don’t honestly know what we are eating. Many of us feel appalled when we see our supposedly educated friends, who when asked are against GMOs and who think they are eating organic but who are absolutely careless about what goes into their shopping cart not to mention their tummies when it is time to eat.

    We need a much more mindful organic community and population. We need all of the people who say they care about a safe, pure food supply and care about eating organic food, to put their money where their mouth is and really consciously make the very careful choices necessary to eat pure, safe food. We have to be an example to the world and we have to keep on talking about it, writing about it and doing something about it. Because it won’t happen overnight and it needs the full attention of everyone who really cares about their health and the health of the planet.

    And organic is a win/win choice from this perspective. Because organic is good for the planet. It does restore the soil when farmers practice their trade properly. It does reverse climate change to use sustainable regenerative agricultural technologies. It does address world hunger, poverty removal and improved quality of life in developing countries. It does support perfect health and more ideal brain functioning to eat pure safe food that is rich in the vitamins and minerals essential for longevity and perfect health.

    So the message of this piece is Choose 100 Percent Organic. Don’t look left or right. Become a fanatic purist and choose only 100 percent certified organic. And let your food stores know that is what you want. And let manufacturers know that is what you want. Be an example and only eat the highest standard of food and don’t settle for anything less than the best. Read labels carefully. Check each ingredient to be certain it is organic. It might be that your favorite jam or jelly has been using an “approved” jelling agent which is not organic and which may come from fruits heavily treated with pesticides. Or your “organic” yogurt may be filled with unnecessary harmful ingredients (the only yogurt ingredients you can trust are certified organic milk and organic cultures). The fast food your kids may want when there is no natural food store in sight, may contain 100 percent harmful ingredients.

    GMOs are one very harmful element when it comes to choosing foods but there is much more to safe healthy eating than this one element. Choose 100 percent organic — for your family’s health, to protect biodiversity, the environment and the planet! You’ll feel the difference and you’ll be glad that you did!

    Simi Summer, PhD is an independent researcher and freelance writer. She is a strong proponent of 100 percent organic production and informed consumer choices.