Organic: Good for you, good for the planet

  • Posted on 30 September 2004
  • By Gordon Labedz

, M.D.

National Sustainable Consumption Committee

When you choose organically grown food, you protect your health, the health of wild animals and the health of our waterways.

Organic food is food that is grown without the use of insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and synthetic fertilizers. These poisonous chemicals accumulate in your body, and with a lifetime of exposure may cause serious health consequences. Recent studies have shown that levels of these chemicals that are acceptable in adults can be damaging to children and may be responsible for increases in childhood diseases. The suffix 'cide' means 'to kill.' These chemicals are poisons. Farmworkers are at great risk for being harmed, but so are consumers.

Some pesticides, such as methyl bromide, are very harmful to the ozone layer. Methyl bromide is used on strawberries. The strawberries are covered in plastic and methyl bromide is pumped in. The berries are soaked with it. Methyl bromide is very similar to the chlorine gas used in World War I. Short exposure to methyl bromide gas will cause a human to die in a few minutes. The bromine gas causes chemical reactions that destroy the ozone layer. Agribusiness has been very successful in protecting this poison.

Agricultural chemicals are the greatest single contributors to water pollution and wildlife deaths. Billions of dollars are spent each year to remedy the effects of non-organic farming (agribusiness). Agribusiness has been mostly exempt from the Clean Water Act. Billions of gallons of pesticide-laden runoff enter our rivers and streams every year.

Out-of-season produce comes from foreign countries that have even lower standards than we have in the United States. The U.S. banned DDT in 1972, but DDT-soaked produce still enters our country through our ports. Women with breast cancer have high levels of DDT in their breasts. Vegetarian women have very low levels.

A major way to eat pesticides is by eating animal products. Animals eat the grain. The chemicals in the grain bio-accumulate in the animals' muscle and become more concentrated.

Root vegetables like carrots and potatoes are known to soak up pesticides from the soil. Organic farmers will plant root vegetables to clean the soil from pesticides. Only eat organic root vegetables.

When making food choices, locally grown organic and plant-based should be your guide.

Gordon LaBedz is a family physician at Kaiser Permanente, a clinical professor of Family Medicine at UC Irvine School of Medicine, and a member of the Sierra Club National Sustainable Consumption Committee.

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