By Deana M. Newman
Within the past decade, the United States has faced numerous food scares. Contaminated spinach, lettuce, green onions, manufactured feed for pets, livestock, fish and shrimp; concerns of dangerous mercury levels in fish and mad cow disease are examples of several events that have startled the nation. A recall of at least 129,000 pounds of beef was recently announced by Davis Creek Meats and Seafood in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a distributor of meat products for several states in the nation. The voluntary recall was due to possible E. coli bacterium discovered by the Michigan Department of Community Health as part of an E. coli O157:H7 illness investigation.
Additional food concerns are the use of recombinant bovine growth hormones (rGBHs) and antibiotics in diary cows to unnaturally increase milk production causing a continuous battle between consumer advocates and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since approving its use in 1993. Pesticides used on conventionally grown produce and linked to human health risks are now traced as a major cause of the massive mortality of honeybee colonies affecting not only honey production but numerous flowering crops such as nuts, fruits, and certain vegetables. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), about one-third of the human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants and the honey-bee is responsible for 80 percent of the job.
The above facts are disturbing, but what other options are available? For numerous consumers, purchasing “organic foods” has become their number one choice for healthier eating and to alleviate allergies caused by pesticides. The growth of organic food sales increased by nearly 20 percent since 1990 and reached sales of nearly $14 million in 2005. Today the products are available in nearly 73% of conventional grocery stores and account for approximately 1-2% of nationwide food sales.
But what exactly is the meaning of “organic”?
Certified organic foods are produced without the use of synthetic pesticides, petroleum-based and sewage slug-based fertilizers, growth hormones, antibiotics, non-irradiated and labeled environmentally friendly. Per the request of the Organic Foods Protection Act of 1990, the USDA developed the following label requirements for organic foods:
o Products labeled "100 percent organic" must contain only organically produced materials.
o Products labeled "organic" must contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients. Products in this or the first category may (but are not required to) display the USDA Organic seal.
o Products that contain between 70 and 95 percent organic ingredients may use the phrase "made with organic ingredients" on the label and may list up to three of the organic ingredients (e.g., carrots) or food groups (e.g., vegetables) on the principal display area.
o Products with less than 70 percent organic ingredients may not use the term organic other than to identify specific organic ingredients.
In an effort to meet the growing demand of citizens seeking wholesome and healthy alternatives, large chain grocers, restaurants, and even college cafeterias at Yale University and the University of California Berkley are heading in the “organic direction”. On March 6, 2007, Meijer, a food and general merchandise supercenter located throughout the Midwest, announced the launching of its new line of organic products entitled “Meijer Organics” and will consist of over 200 products from organic fruits and vegetables to organic spinach and feta pizza. Each item presented under the new Meijer label will also be branded with the official “USDA Organic” seal, guaranteeing the product is at least 95 percent organic, and offered at more affordable prices in comparison to other national brands of organic products.
. Eating healthy foods is the first step in maintaining a healthy body. Continue to be proactive in your physical and mental health through exercise, eating nutritious meals throughout the day and scheduling regular medical checkups. For more information on organic products, visit the Organic Consumers Association at www.organicconsumers.org or the United States Department of Agriculture at www.usda.gov.
Deana Newman is currently a Cardiovascular Perfusionist at Sparrow Hospital and a Master’s candidate in Health Communications at Michigan State University.