Posted on June 18, 2013 - by

In Organic We Trust…But Should We?

When savvy shoppers like us buy food, we often look for the “organic” label, since these products are the ones that are the most sustainable, ecofriendly and nutritious for us. Or are they? What does “organic” really mean, and does it deserve the trust that we place in it? Recently, the FRESH team was inspired by a new documentary from director Kip Pastor called In Organic We Trust to think about these questions and more. Below, we’re sharing some tips on how to understand the organic label. In addition, we’re excited to offer the In Organic We Trust DVD at a specially discounted rate of $18.99 for a limited time. Read on to find out more!

What Organic Means:

  • USDA Certification: The organic label means that the ingredients came from producers who were certified by the USDA as upholding organic standards.
  • Limited Pesticides: Organic produce is grown without synthetic and persistent pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. Eating organic produce is a good way to reduce your exposure to these chemicals.
  • GMO Free: Organic foods do not include genetically-modified ingredients.
  • No Irradiation: Organic produce has not been exposed to irradiation, an ionizing radiation treatment used to kill foodborne pathogens and reduce spoilage.

What Organic Doesn’t Mean:

  • Small Scale Producer: Unfortunately, food conglomerates have realized that premium prices equals larger profits, and they have bought many formerly independent organic operations. Many organic brands are in fact subsidiaries of larger mainstream companies, such as Kashi and Kellogg’s, or Muir Glen and General Mills.
  • Locally Sourced: Much of the organic produce at your supermarket probably comes from CA, while the small scale farms in your community may be local, but not certified organic.
  • Fair Labor Practices: An organic farm can be staffed by exploited workers who suffer poor pay and lack benefits. The Fair Trade label certifies that the food was produced by workers who were fairly compensated, but these requirements are not part of the organic standards.
  • No Additives: If the product is not labeled “100% organic,” up to 5% can be composed of the 100+ non-organic additives allowed by the National List. Many of the additives are included because no organic substitute is available or for economic reasons, and while not all of them are harmful, the list does include items like cellulose (indigestible wood pulp) and carrageenan (linked to intestinal inflammation and colon cancer).

The Bottom Line:

  • Know Your Farmer: Just because your local farmer hasn’t had the time or funding to get organic certification doesn’t mean they aren’t running a sustainable operation. It may be better to buy from someone you know and trust over an unknown, large scale organic farm elsewhere.
  • Organic Still Means Something: While the label may not encompass all that we would hope, the organic standards are still a good start to differentiating the types of farms and producers we want to support. Remember that the label “natural” is unregulated and doesn’t mean anything, while “organic” does require adherence to regulations.
  • Dirty Dozen: Maybe you don’t have the budget or the availability to buy only organic products. In that case, carry the Dirty Dozen card in your wallet or store it on your phone. This lists the top fruits and vegetables that carry the highest levels of pesticide residues. Strive to purchase organic versions of these foods where possible.

If you’d like to learn more about the facts behind the organic label, we highly recommend the film In Organic We Trust, which explores these issues.

Check out the trailer and purchase the film here: http://org2.salsalabs.com/o/5958/p/d/freshthemovie/shop/itemDetail.sjs?store_item_KEY=2426

Ideas? Suggestions? Leave us a comment below with your thoughts on organic labeling and organic certification!


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  1. Visit My Website

    June 19, 2013

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    Debbie said:

    SO MUCH FOR THE MYTHS
    CONSIDER THE FACTS ON CARRAGEENAN FOR A CHANGE

    Q. What is Carrageenan??

    A. Carrageenan is a naturally-occurring seaweed extract. It is widely used in foods and non-foods to improve texture and stability. Common uses include meat and poultry, dairy products, canned pet food, cosmetics and toothpaste.
    Q. Why the controversy?
    A. Self-appointed consumer watchdogs have produced numerous web pages filled with words condemning carrageenan as an unsafe food additive for human consumption. However, in 70+ years of carrageenan being used in processed foods, not a single substantiated claim of an acute or chronic disease has been reported as arising from carrageenan consumption. On a more science-based footing, food regulatory agencies in the US, the EU, and in the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) repeatedly review and continue to approve carrageenan as a safe food additive.
    Q. What has led up to this misrepresentation of the safety of an important food stabilizer, gelling agent and thickener?
    A. It clearly has to be attributed to the research of Dr. Joanne Tobacman, an Associate Prof at the University of Illinois in Chicago. She and a group of molecular biologists have accused carrageenan of being a potential inflammatory agent as a conclusion from laboratory experiments with cells of the digestive tract. It requires a lot of unproven assumptions to even suggest that consumption of carrageenan in the human diet causes inflammatory diseases of the digestive tract. The objectivity of the Chicago research is also flawed by the fact that Dr Tobacman has tried to have carrageenan declared an unsafe food additive on weak technical arguments that she broadcast widely a decade before the University of Chicago research began.

    Q. What brings poligeenan into a discussion of carrageenan?
    A. Poligeenan (“degraded carrageenan” in pre-1988 scientific and regulatory publications) is a possible carcinogen to humans; carrageenan is not. The only relationship between carrageenan and poligeenan is that the former is the starting material to make the latter. Poligeenan is not a component of carrageenan and cannot be produced in the digestive tract from carrageenan-containing foods.
    Q. What are the differences between poligeenan and carrageenan?
    A. The production process for poligeenan requires treating carrageenan with strong acid at high temp (about that of boiling water) for 6 hours or more. These severe processing conditions convert the long chains of carrageenan to much shorter ones: ten to one hundred times shorter. In scientific terms the molecular weight of poligeenan is 10,000 to 20,000; whereas that of carrageenan is 200,000 to 800,000. Concern has been raised about the amount of material in carrageenan with molecular weight less than 50,000. The actual amount (well under 1%) cannot even be detected accurately with current technology. Certainly it presents no threat to human health.
    Q. What is the importance of these molecular weight differences?
    A. Poligeenan contains a fraction of material low enough in molecular weight that it can penetrate the walls of the digestive tract and enter the blood stream. The molecular weight of carrageenan is high enough that this penetration is impossible. Animal feeding studies starting in the 1960s have demonstrated that once the low molecular weight fraction of poligeenan enters the blood stream in large enough amounts, pre-cancerous lesions begin to form. These lesions are not observed in animals fed with a food containing carrageenan.

    Q. Does carrageenan get absorbed in the digestive track?
    A. Carrageenan passes through the digestive system intact, much like food fiber. In fact, carrageenan is a combination of soluble and insoluble nutritional fiber, though its use level in foods is so low as not to be a significant source of fiber in the diet.
    Summary
    Carrageenan has been proven completely safe for consumption. Poligeenan is not a component of carrageenan.
    Closing Remarks
    The consumer watchdogs with their blogs and websites would do far more service to consumers by researching their sources and present only what can be substantiated by good science. Unfortunately we are in an era of media frenzy that rewards controversy.
    Additional information available:
    On June 11th, 2008, Dr. Joanne Tobacman petitioned the FDA to revoke the current regulations permitting use of carrageenan as a food additive.
    On June 11th, 2012 the FDA denied her petition, categorically addressing and ultimately dismissing all of her claims; their rebuttal supported by the results of several in-depth, scientific studies.
    If you would like to read the full petition and FDA response, they can be accessed at http://www.regulations.gov/#!searchResults;rpp=25;po=0;s=FDA-2008-P-0347



  2. Visit My Website

    June 24, 2013

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    robb zimmerman said:

    i was kind of curious about the carrageenan thing, too, since irish moss is big with raw vegans and contains a great deal of carrageenan. this is the first i had ever heard of it being unhealthy. perhaps a less “cut and paste” defense of carrageenan (or a better explanation of its risks) would be in order here?



  3. Visit My Website

    June 24, 2013

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    Kelly said:

    I just follow the rule, if it is not in my kitchen for me to use myself, it does not go in my body. They do not seel carrageenan for home use as far as I know so I prefer not to put it in my body. I do not agree with the “Organic” label due to the things they are allowed to use that I would not want in or on my foods. Nor could I ever afford to be certified at this point. There is always controversy in the food world about labeling and ingredients. Only you can make the decision of what you are willing to use.



  4. Visit My Website

    June 24, 2013

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    Andrew said:

    What is the “Dirty Dozen Card?” And, more importantly,where can I obtain one?



  5. Visit My Website

    June 24, 2013

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    Crystal Cun said:

    Hi Andrew, thanks for pointing out the omission. I’ve updated the post to include a link to the Dirty Dozen card or you can access it here: http://static.foodnews.org/pdf/EWG-shoppers-guide.pdf



  6. Visit My Website

    June 26, 2013

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    Noel Huelsenbeck said:

    Well there is also an issue with organic cotton, which is mostly grown overseas. Some say there is a greater supply then the amount grown, and with India, Pakistan, and Turkey being the biggest growers you could understand the possibility of corruption.

    In California there are 750 cotton farmers, but only one grows organic cotton, which I witnessed first hand, we now have the opportunity to turn this into clothing 100% Made in the USA.

    You can learn about our project here: http://kck.st/1ado6wr.

    Please help us by supporting PuraKai and be part of the first clothing company to use 100% California Grown Organic Cotton. Designed and produced entirely in the USA!

  7. Karissa said:

    Great movie! Learned a lot. People should be more selective in what they buy. Just because it says organic.. does not mean that it is!

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