So, What is Organic Food?

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What Is Organic Food?

Organic foods are produced without the use of synthetic chemicals. They contain no added preservatives, artificial ingredients or irradiation and are GMO.

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Isn't Organic Food Just For Greenies?

As organic food gets more publicity people ask us "So what is all the fuss about? Australia has clean food so why should I worry?" Well, this was true in the fifties when farmers grew crops in season and for local markets, but over the past 40 years the multi national, global market phenomenon, has ensured that farmers cannot meet supply expectations without resorting to heavy fertiliser, pesticide and herbicide use on their crops, as well as using intensive farming methods for their animals.

The first people to realise that these farming methods were actually harming our food supplies were the "hippies" in the 60's and their efforts to obtain clean food were hampered by lack of supply and skepticism from retailers. As a result, the early organic food was produced by well meaning amateurs, and the results were pretty awful - only the most enthusiastic would buy them - so most people resorted to growing their own. For this reason the environmental lobby and alternative therapies supporters became linked with organic food, and it obtained a "loonie left" image.

In 2001 The University of Central Queensland released research findings that showed organic food is not just consumed by hippies, yuppies, greenies or health nuts but by mainstream Australians, and to meet this demand professional growers and processors have entered the organic market.

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Why Eat Organic?

Nowadays, more and more evidence is emerging of the effect that chemicals in our food have on the health of our children, the rise in asthma, eczema, allergies, ADD and hyperactivity have all been linked to additives and chemicals in food. Cancer patients are also advised by doctors to eat organic food. Children are particularly susceptible to additives in food, as all the safety levels of chemicals in food are set at an adult level.

Children, due to their smaller size are commonly consuming a larger percentage of chemicals. Fresh organic produce has more vitamins, minerals, enzymes and other micro-nutrients than intensively farmed food, (Source: Organic Foods vs Supermarket foods Journal of Applied Nutrition 1993). It is what hasn't been added to organic food that makes it good for you, it is the most natural way of growing food and rearing animals.

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Organic Food Is The Only Way To Avoid Genetically Modified Ingredients

A more recent threat to our food supply is the introduction of genetically modified food. Genetic modification of food means the introduction of one species genes into another's. So an animal gene can be introduced into a plant gene. Also plants are being genetically modified to have pesticide as a part of their make up - scientists would say this means that less pesticides are used on the plant, but what it also means is that the pesticide is an integral part of the plant so it can't be washed off. You eat the plant and pesticide together!

In the late 90's, in Europe and the UK, consumers protested against the introduction of genetically modified food into supermarkets and as a result most European and UK supermarkets will not accept genetically modified ingredients in the food they sell. Unfortunately this is not the case in Australia. Greenpeace and the Gene Ethics network have just released a booklet entitled the "True Food Guide" (available from Organic Oz and Greenpeace) which lists the food in Australian supermarkets containing GMO's, the list is long and concerning. Buying organic food is the only sure way of avoiding GMO's as organic food cannot contain any genetic modification.

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How Do I Know It Is Organic?

In Australia the Organic industry is regulated by Government through the quarantine service, and has Professional Certification bodies who are responsible for certifying food as organic or biodynamic. It is important to look for the certification logos when buying organic food, the main ones in Australia are BFA, NASAA & Biodynamic/Demeter certification. To be certified the growers have to fulfill stringent requirements, which can take up to three years, therefore the food they grow cannot be sold as organic. They can sell food as "in conversion" until they obtain certification. There are some smaller bodies that certify specialist food like herbs and wine as well. Other countries have their own certification bodies, so food that is imported into Australia as organic, must carry one of the recognised logos and certification numbers. When buying organic food, you should check for the logo. (See on last page) Also many shops call themselves organic shops when they do not in fact have exclusively certified organic food, so you need to check the labelling if buying organic in a "health shop".

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Is There A Good Range Of Organic Food Available?

The range of organic food is now large and the quality matches conventionally grown food. Fresh organic fruit and vegetables are only available in their season, but as Australia has such a wide climate range, we can usually source a wide range all through the year. The most important thing is that the piece of fruit or vegetable has not been stored for long periods, sprayed, coated or waxed. Meat is clean and tasty, with no anti-biotics and is raised in a healthy environment, as nature intended. Processed foods from bread, pasta, dairy foods, ice cream, baby foods, cereals, chocolates and sweets, jams, tinned food, cheese and beer and wine and much more are now available and as more producers become organic the range increases.

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Does It Really Taste Better?

Organic food is allowed to ripen naturally so the full flavour is attained, many people on tasting organically grown food for the first time, notice that it tastes different, what this means is that it actually has a taste!

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What About The Cost?

Organic customers are making a choice - they believe that their health and that of their children, is a priority, and they are prepared to pay the price that comes with that peace of mind.

However for those operating on a tight budget there are 6 foods that you should choose to buy organically.

  1. Apples
    Some 48 pesticides are commonly used to grow apples. Evidence shows that organic apples contain higher levels of vitamins and minerals than their non-organic counterparts.
  2. Bread
    Conventional bread contains over 20 chemical agents, while organic loaves contain only vinegar and absorbic acid
  3. Carrots
    Organic carrots are free of organo-phosphate - a form of pesticide that has been associated with health risks.
  4. Babyfood
    Organic babyfood contains 'real' fruit and vegetables rather than high levels of non-nutritious processing agents and high levels of sugar.
  5. Dairy food
    Milk from organic farms tends to contain higher levels of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) - essential for skin growth. Research also indicates it can help more serious diseases such as breast cancer.
  6. Rice
    Rice is an intensively grown crop and tends to contain high levels of pesticides which can potentially harm our health as well as our environment.

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Certification Logos To Look Out For


Biological Farmers of
Australia Logo
NAASA Logo Biodynamic Logo

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Children And Pesticides

A University of Washington study analysed pesticide breakdown products (metabolites) in pre-school aged children and found that children eating organic fruits and vegetables had concentrations of pesticide metabolites six times lower than children eating conventional produce.

The study compared metabolite concentrations of organophosphorus (OP) pesticides (a class of insecticides that disrupt the nervous system) in the urine of 39 urban and suburban children aged 2 to 4 years. The researchers’ findings point to a relatively simple way for parents to reduce their children’s chemical loads - serve organic produce.

The authors focused on children’s dietary pesticide exposure because children are at greater risk for two reasons: they eat more food relative to body mass, and they eat foods higher in pesticide residues - such as juices, fresh fruits and vegetables. An earlier study cited by the authors looked at pesticide metabolites in the urine of 96 urban and suburban children and found OP pesticides in the urine of all children but one. The parents of the child with no pesticide metabolites reported buying exclusively organic produce.

Researchers recruited children for the study outside of conventional and organic grocery stores in the Seattle metropolitan region and asked parents to record all food consumed in a three-day period prior to collecting their child’s urine over the next 24 hours. Based on the food diaries, the study assigned the children into groups consuming at least 75% organic or at least 75% conventional fruits and vegetables. Parents were also asked about household pesticide use in their homes and on gardens, lawns and pets. Although the authors found that parents of children eating conventional diets were more likely to report some home pesticide use, they did not find significant differences in concentrations of pesticide metabolites based on this use.

The children’s urine was tested for five metabolites of OP pesticides which are registered in the U.S. and frequently applied to food crops. The study focused on these pesticides because they are metabolised into several easily recognisable compounds. Breakdown products of pesticides such as malathion, azinphos-methyl, parathion, oxydemeton-methyl, phosmet, methyl parathion, methidatihon and dimethoate were found at the highest concentrations. Of these pesticides, azinphos-methyl and phosmet are the two primarily used on fresh produce within the U.S. Lower concentrations were found of breakdown products from diazinon and chlorpyrifos.

The researchers found median concentrations of OP metabolites six times lower in the children with organic diets. Average concentrations for the organic group were actually nine times lower, suggesting that some children eating conventional produce had much higher concentrations of OP metabolites in their systems.

Because many of the OP pesticides break down into identical metabolites, the study did not provide information on the specific pesticides children were exposed to. However, the study did determine that some children were at risk for consuming more OP pesticides than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers "safe" as a daily dose. The researchers concluded that organic fruits and vegetables can reduce exposure levels from above to below EPA chronic reference doses, "thereby shifting exposures from a range of uncertain risk to a range of negligible risk."

These findings confirm what is already known about pesticide residues on conventional produce. Consumers Union analysed US Department of Agriculture residue data for all pesticides for 1999 and 2000 and warned parents of small children to limit or avoid conventionally grown foods known to have high residues such as cantaloupes, green beans (canned or frozen), pears, strawberries, tomatoes (Mexican grown) and winter squash. The Seattle study, which reflects children’s food diaries, adds apples to that list.

Susan Kegley, staff scientist at Pesticide Action Network states, "We have been concerned for a long time about continuous exposure to organochlorine pesticides because they persist in our bodies for years. This study reveals that we are continuously exposed to OP pesticides, not because they linger in our bodies, but because we are persistently being exposed through the food we eat every day."

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The Studies Main Conclusion

Eating organic fruits and vegetables can significantly reduce children’s pesticide loads - is information that parents can act on to reduce their children’s risk. A secondary conclusion - that small children may be exceeding "safe" levels of pesticide exposure - is information that regulators should act on and, at the very least, reduce uses of these pesticides on food crop.

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