ales of natural and organic products for the United States alone in 2008 are estimated to “total $32.9 billion” (Marketwatch, Sept. 9, 2008). From 2005 to 2008, the natural and organics industry has experienced nearly 70% growth in sales. But, is there any benefit to eating organic, especially when it comes to cancer risk?
What Does Organic Mean?
For foods and beverages to earn the organic label from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a food must be grown on land that has been free of synthetic pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides and other potential toxins such as growth hormones for a period of at least three years.
On the surface, this sounds like the food produced on this land should be free from pesticides, herbicides, and growth hormones, right? That is what the manufacturers of such products would lead the consumer to believe, if more by omission than by admission.
What is not being said aloud is that many of the synthetic chemicals that have been applied to the soil over the years-and that exist in the atmosphere and water by contamination from those soils-can and do remain there for decades, and some may last as long as 100 years.
Is organic just the latest trend among many, or is it here to stay? And if organic is going to be the way of the future, will it be so because marketers are preying on the fears of consumers while lulling them into a false sense of security? If an informed consumer continues to choose to buy and eat organic goods, then they should base their decision on facts and not half-truths.
Differences Between Organic Farming and Conventional Farming
* Apply chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth
* Use insecticides/pesticides to reduce pests and disease
* Use chemical herbicides to control weeds
* Give animals antibiotics, growth hormones and medications to prevent disease and spur growth
* Apply natural fertilizers, such as manure and compost to promote plant growth
* Use beneficial insects and birds, mating disruption or traps to reduce pests and disease
* Rotate crops, till, hand weed or mulch to control weeds
* Give animals organic feed and allow them access to the outdoors. Use preventative measures such as rotational grazing and a balanced diet and clean environment to prevent disease
What Else Should You Consider About the Food You Eat?
Biotechnology, the science created by the marriage of biology and technology, is a relatively new and growing field. Biotechnology has brought cloning of animals to the forefront-and perhaps to your dinner table in the near future.
Another area of nutrition that biotechnology is making strides in is genetically modified organisms (GMO). Genetic modification, which involves the most basic of the life-determining cells, namely the DNA, refers to the ability to add, subtract, or alter the genetic code of a plant, animal, or microorganism. Essentially, GMO is the ability to genetically manipulate something into having characteristics it doesn’t usually possess.
While selling cloned meat has already received the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval (without having to provide a label to differentiate cloned meat from other meat), there is more hesitation in the scientific community about the long term safety of GMO. Has that hesitation resulted in our food supply being free of GMOs? To the contrary, they have been in the food supply since the 1990s.
With both cloning and genetic modification being new sciences, you have to wonder how much can really be known about the long-term safety of the food that’s been created by them. Science cannot even know the long-term safety of the plants, animals, and microorganisms themselves that these processes create.
Since cancer is thought to be a mutation of its own, could it not be possible that scientifically altered food may actually cause more cancer-if not in the short term, then in the long term?
What We May Conclude From The Information on Organic Food
The only reasonable conclusions to reach about eating organic food are:
– The purchase of it will likely increase your grocery budget.
– You may slightly decrease the amount of chemicals you are exposing your body to due to the food’s exposure to at least three fewer years of direct synthetic chemical exposure.
– The organic food industry is counting on your knowledge of partial information to determine that organic food is healthier-for example, that organic food will reduce your risk of cancer – and they are counting on that partial knowledge translating into increased profits for their industry.
Even though the evidence that eating organic lowers cancer risk isn’t all that great, many people find that switching to organic improves their health.