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Ask an Expert - Organic Foods

I have noticed that more grocery stores sell organic foods. What is organic food? Is it safer for my family?
Ask an Expert - Organic Foods

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By Brad Brummond, Extension Agent, Walsh County

NDSU Extension Service

I like to define organic farming as farming in partnership with nature. Many times, organic farming is defined by what the farmers do not do. Generally speaking, organic farmers and processors are not allowed to use many of the herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and fertilizers used in conventional agriculture. The key to their system is to manage their crops to remain ahead of any potential pest. They also are not allowed to use genetically modified organisms.

So does this mean that organic products are “chemical free”? While organic products may have reduced levels of pesticide residues, the organic label does not certify them to be free of these residues. No one can make that statement in today’s world. Remember, you are buying a production system when you purchase organic food.

The National Organic Program (NOP) took over the authority of organic certification in the U.S. in 2002. It has very strict rules as to what can qualify to be labeled organic in the United States. The U.S. Department of Agriculture does not state that organically produced food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced products.

To make an informed decision on a purchase, you must understand what you are purchasing. The decision to purchase or not to purchase organic food is no exception. When you are purchasing organic food, you are buying into a very well-defined production system. This is defined by the NOP. All organic food that is sold in the U.S. must meet the minimum standards as outlined in the NOP. You will know it is an organic product by the certification seal on the product, so look for it.

Many of the people I know who purchase organic produce do so because of the perceived health benefits of organic produce. They also want to support what they perceive as a more environmentally friendly farming system. I think each person should educate himself or herself on the facts and then make a decision.

When doing research into this subject, look for good, sound, research-proven data and be careful where your information comes from. I have seen wild and inaccurate claims from both sides in this debate. I live and work in biotech, conventional and organic farming systems. I see the good and bad in each. I have friends in all the systems I mentioned. I just want people to use the facts when deciding how they will farm or what food they will purchase.

I have seen more organic food being stocked in North Dakota grocery stores. Even some of the smaller local stores are starting to carry limited amounts of organic food. If you are interested in your store carrying organic product, you must talk to the one who purchases products for the store. In many small stores, that is the owner. In larger stores, purchasing responsibilities may be divided by areas of the store or commodities.

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