KBR employees like Mary and Judit have been doing more grocery shopping for healthy produce and reorganizing their refrigerators to help ensure nutritious foods are readily available. One topic covered in the KBR Good Nutrition and Healthy lifestyle class is whether to buy organic foods or choose traditional farming methods.
Selection of pesticides with small ecological footprints is key in developing sustainable agricultural systems. Policy that guides the selection of pesticides often emphasizes natural products and organic-certified pesticides to increase sustainability. Some studies call into question the assumption that organic pesticides are more environmentally benign than synthetic ones.
Pesticides on Organic Crops
Organic farmers utilize:
- crop rotation to manage weeds,
- use beneficial insects and birds,
- use mating disruption or traps to reduce pests and disease,
- apply natural fertilizers, such as manure or compost, to feed soil and plants.
Organic farmers are allowed to use pesticides from an official list of substances approved by the USDA for organic farming (https://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/organic/national-list/petitioned). Critics of the list of pesticides approved for organic farming claim that the USDA is too lenient with the current guidelines. The amount and frequency of pesticides utilized vary from farm to farm. For consumers who desire tighter regulations, there are various organic agencies that provide additional certifications. Two such programs include SCS certified-pesticide-residue-free (https://www.scsglobalservices.com/certified-pesticide-residue-free) and Oregon Tilth. In 1997, Oregon Tilth helped form the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), which evaluates materials for use in organic farms and processors . Today, Oregon Tilth is the third largest USDA accredited organic certifier, serving over 1,450 processors and growers, restaurants and retailers that represent the entire food chain, from seed to fork. (https://tilth.org/find-organics/).
Consumers who are concerned about the use of pesticides on their produce can be assured about their food choices by visiting their local farmer’s market and talking to the growers to find out what standards they use for organic farming. The website http://eatlocalgrown.com will help you find a farmer’s market near you.
Are Organic Foods More Nutritious?
A 2012 Stanford University study found no significant difference in the nutrition component of organic over conventional foods. A larger 2014 meta-analysis study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, however, found substantially higher concentrations of a whole range of antioxidants and phytochemicals in many fruits and vegetables. The added nutritional value is theorized to occur in two ways. Less nitrogen administered from fertilizers to organic plants means they grow slower and have more time to develop chemicals that may offer health benefits. Additionally, organic plants tend to be exposed to more stress from insect attacks and that results in the development of more phytochemicals to protect the plant. Organic beef and milk contain about 50% more omega-3 fatty acids than the non-organic sources. Cows that are allowed to forage on grasses rich in omega-3 fatty acids pass this healthy polyunsaturated fat on to the consumer. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24968103).
Regardless of whether you buy organic or traditional farm products, all Americans would benefit from getting more fruits and vegetables, and our planet would benefit from greater scrutiny over the types of chemicals we put into our environment. (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/pesticides/)