Simply stated, organic produce and other ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. Animals raised to produce organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones.
Considering this, who wouldn't want to buy organic, right? Unfortunately, organic can be expensive or hard to find. New science shows that it's more important to buy some foods produced organically than it is others. You should always buy organic for foods that are notorious for having the heaviest burden of pesticides, chemicals, additives and hormones. Here’s a list of the biggest culprits:
- Meat- Raising animals with conventional modern methods often means using hormones to speed up growth, antibiotics to resist disease and pesticides to grow the grain fed to the animals (check our factory farms section for more info). If these compounds enter the environment, which they often do, they pose numerous risks including polluting groundwater. To meet USDA standards, organic meat can come only from animals fed organic feed and given no hormones or antibiotics.
- Milk- Antibiotics and hormones are forced into America’s conventional dairy cow to increase profits. Milk is of special concern because it is a staple of a child's diets. Organic dairies cannot feed their cows with grains grown with pesticides, nor can they use antibiotics or growth hormones.
- Coffee- Many of the beans you buy are grown in countries that don't regulate use of chemicals and pesticides. Look for the Fair Trade Certified Organic label on the coffee package or can. It’ll give you some assurance that chemicals and pesticides were not used on the plants. Even better, Fair Trade prices mean improved health care and housing for farmers' families, keeping their kids in school longer, and being able to afford materials for the farm.
- Peaches- Peaches have the highest levels of pesticides of all conventional produce.
- Apples- Scrubbing and peeling apples doesn't eliminate chemical residue completely. Besides, peeling a fruit or vegetable also strips away many of their beneficial nutrients.
- Sweet bell peppers- Pepper crops are heavily sprayed to keep them insect-free. What’s worse is that peppers have thin skins that don't offer much of a barrier to pesticides.
- Celery- Celery has no protective skin, so it’s almost impossible to wash off the chemicals used on conventional crops.
- Strawberries- Strawberries are one of the most pesticide-laden foods of all. They’re not easy to wash because they’re small and easily bruised. Keep in mind that if you buy strawberries out of season, they're most likely imported from countries that use less-stringent regulations for pesticide use.
- Lettuce- Leafy greens are frequently contaminated with what are considered the most potent pesticides used on food.
- Grapes (including raisins and juice since many kinds of juices have grape juice in them)- Imported grapes run a much greater risk of contamination than those grown domestically. Vineyards can be sprayed with different pesticides during different growth periods of the grape, and because of the grape’s thin skin, no amount of washing or peeling will eliminate contamination.
- Potatoes- America's favorite spud ranks high for pesticide residue and fungicides.
- Tomatoes- A tomato's easily punctured skin is no match for chemicals that eventually permeate it.
- Bananas- We’ve encountered some contradictory information on this delicious fruit. Some sources claim that the skins protect them from pesticide residue while others contend that the heavy chemicals used to preserve the fruit during the trip to America can damage brain and nervous system. We decided to err on the side of caution and keep it on the list. Better safe than sorry!
Foods You Don't Have to Buy Organic
These fruits and vegetables face fewer threats from pests such as insects or disease. That means less pesticide spraying.
- Sweet Potatoes
These fruits have skins that protect them from pesticide residue.
- Cantaloupe/Honeydew Melon
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Sources: National Geographic, The Daily Green – The Dirty Dozen Wall Street Journal Consumer Union Environmental Working Group The Daily Green – Foods you don’t have to buy organic Greenopolis