There is much debate about the need for organic produce in our diet. The following article from the Epicure section of “The Age” discusses the evidence to date about the benefits of organic produce. Nushie’s mother Carolyn grew up on a farm in the 50′s and 60′s and believes the use of herbicides and pesticides contributed to her breast cancer. Common sense tells you that inevitably there are chemical residues in the food chain that cannot be good for us and must be one of the reasons of the huge increase of the incidence of cancer in society post modern agricultural practices.
All Nushies’s Natural products (flaxseed and chia crackers, buckwheat granola and non dairy gluten free ice creamery) are made from organic certified organic produce (except the sherry in our Tiramisu Ice Creamery). We believe organic is the safest way to go when it comes to food.
November 22, 2011
AS MORE Australian shoppers leave the supermarket with reusable bags of organic produce and a self-congratulatory glow, it is not actually possible to prove that what they have bought is nutritionally better.
Studies comparing the vitamin and mineral contents of organic versus non-organic foods are inadequate, inconclusive and rarely conducted in Australia.
”The jury is still out; the science is not good enough to prove nutritional benefits – though it is starting to get better,” senior lecturer at Monash University’s department of nutrition and dietetics, Janeane Dart, says. Evidence is emerging from the bulging basket of international studies that organic food may contain more desirable antioxidants, says Karen Inge, a nutritionist from the Institute of Health and Fitness.
Advertisement: Story continues below
Arthur Karvelis shops for organic produce. Photo: Matthew Piper
But the dearth of hard data proving nutritional benefits has not stopped the steady march of organic food onto supermarket shelves during the past decade. While it’s still a tiny portion of the overall market, the Organic Federation of Australia’s latest data shows retail sales of organic food grew 50 per cent in two years and are about to crack yearly retail sales of $1 billion.
For many devotees, the appeal is less about what is in organic food and more about what is not. They are more interested in reducing the presence of chemicals such as pesticides. But how much of a concern is this here? It is widely accepted that Australia has excellent farming practices and a world-class food supply chain.
But some organisations raise concerns about the way chemical use in agriculture is regulated.
A report last year by the World Wildlife Fund and the National Toxics Network found about 80 pesticides approved for use in this country that are either not registered or have been deregistered overseas.
According to the study, among these: ”Seventeen are known, likely or probable carcinogens, 48 have been flagged as potential endocrine (hormone) disruptors and more than 20 are classified as either extremely or highly hazardous by the World Health Organisation.”
By the time we buy food, though, are nasties still lurking? Federal and state governments monitor the chemical residues on our food. In 1987, the state Department of Primary Industries began annual residue testing for chemicals and other contaminants in fresh Victorian produce. The most recent study (2008-09) showed 95 per cent of samples tested did not exceed maximum residue limits set by Food Standards Australia New Zealand.
Residues were found in 16 per cent of vegetables in the study and 55 per cent of fruit. Just over 6 per cent of vegetables contained unacceptable residues; these were carrots, squash, cucumber, tomatoes, artichokes and parsnips. And 2.5 per cent of the fruit tested had unacceptably high residues. These were nectarines, grapes and pears.
The study concluded that overall, Victorian producers are growing food of high quality and using chemicals according to ”good agricultural practice”.
Meanwhile, work is being done overseas to better understand what are safe levels of pesticides for humans to consume and whether different chemicals may react together in the body.
”There’s increasing evidence raising concern about the effect of some of these chemicals on human health,” says Liza Oates, course coordinator of food as medicine at RMIT’s school of health sciences. ”However, there is not enough information to definitively say there is a problem with our food or to say with certainty that it is safe. It is difficult to establish, given most people don’t know exactly what they have been exposed to. Many conditions take decades to develop and other factors also influence disease risk.”
Many organic advocates appear willing to pay a premium – Epicure found prices could be up to double those of conventional food – based on a strategy of ”it’s better to be safe than sorry”.
But is it necessary to stock our larders and fridges with entirely organic ingredients?
No, says Inge. ”In Australia we can be assured that we have a very healthy food supply compared to other countries.” Best to target our approach, she says. Nutritionist Rosemary Stanton says we should educate ourselves about what we eat to understand where it has come from, how it was grown and what has happened to it. Both Inge and Stanton advise choosing seasonal, naturally ripened food because it will generally taste better and have higher nutrient levels. ”The good thing about organic food is that it can usually be traced from paddock to plate, it is usually picked in season when it is ripe and not transported very far,” Stanton says. Good for the environment, taste and perhaps health.
THE Australian Total Diet Study examines people’s exposure to a range of pesticide residue contaminants. In the most recently published data on pesticides (2003), strawberries were found to have the highest chemical residues. ”I would try to buy organic strawberries – they are hard to wash so you may not be getting the pesticide residues off them,” Stanton says. Various studies have also shown that organic strawberries may contain more antioxidants. And they are often redder and sweeter, Inge says. Berries in general can retain pesticide residues, though usually at what the government deems to be safe levels.
Organic $6 a box; conventional $3.
THERE is a persistent urban myth that chickens are pumped with growth hormones. They are not, and have not been for 40 years. But they are fed antibiotics. This is cause for concern, says Professor Peter Collignon, director of infectious diseases and microbiology at Australian National University. His fear is that the bacteria carried by animals routinely given antibiotics run a risk of developing resistance.
By ingesting any resistant bugs – which can be killed by correct cooking – there is a risk that if we develop a serious infection, the antibiotics with which we are treated might not work.
”We are using huge amounts of antibiotics producing food, particularly chicken and pork. As far as I am concerned, it is a con job on the part of the drug companies. Farmers are basing their reasons for using the antibiotics on faith, not on science,” Collignon says. ”And no one is willing to do anything.”
Antibiotics are given to animals as a means of disease control when they are housed in close quarters, as are non-free-range chickens, to control disease. Food Standards Australia New Zealand acknowledges that ”low residues of antibiotics may be present in some of the foods we eat”.
But there are maximum permissible limits for antibiotic residues and food cannot be sold if the residues exceed these limits. ”Regular tests show antibiotic residues rarely exceed the limits set in the code,” FSANZ says. But Collignon questions whether maximum residue limit controls are too lenient.
Organic chicken $17.50/kg; conventional $4.60/kg.
PORK is also widely dosed with antibiotics. The Australian Pork Association says there is ”some prophylactic use when pigs are deemed to be vulnerable, say at weaning time or when under stress”.
They are also given a chemical called ractopamine in feed, which has been banned in the European Union and China.
The association says it is a ”substance fed to pigs in its last four weeks to increase feed efficiency and muscle growth” – but that no residues remain in the slaughtered animal.
Check the labels on pork closely: ”bred free-range” means the pigs are born outdoors in a free-range environment but once weaned at about four weeks, are raised indoors.
The RSPCA says: ”These pigs may be raised in large, open sheds with straw bedding or in small pens on concrete floors as in conventional pig farming systems.”
It is hard to find organic pork so genuine free-range is an alternative – pigs are raised in as natural a environment as possible, which often translates as better flavour.
Organic pork loin chops $28/kg; conventional $17/kg.
BEEF is the only livestock in Australia given hormones, which promote growth. Meat and Livestock Australia says 40 per cent of Australian beef is given the hormones. The industry – 30 per cent of the nation’s cows are grain-fed in feedlots and 70 per cent are grass-fed and slaughtered at 18 months, according to the MLA – is tightly regulated and farmers adhere to strict guidelines on chemical use. There is little evidence to suggest the hormones are harmful, but while helping to build bulk, they can compromise the beef’s tenderness. So to avoid hormones, consider buying organic or beef labelled hormone-free.
Organic eye fillet $58/kg; conventional $40/kg.
OF THE 160 vegetable samples tested in the latest Victorian Department of Primary Industries’ Produce Monitoring Report (2008-’09), carrots were on a list with unacceptable chemical residue detected – half of the eight samples had residues over the legal limit, in one case three times the legal limit. The chemical detected was a weed killer called Linuron, classified by the EPA as a possible carcinogen.
Organic carrots $5.30/kg; conventional $2/kg.
PEARS were on the same list. Of 13 samples, 11 had residues less than half of the legal limit, but one sample was over. The residue, Methidathion, is an insecticide. It is classed by the World Health Organisation as ”highly hazardous”. It is banned in the European Union and is listed by the US EPA as a possible carcinogen.
Organic Packham pears $7/kg; conventional $4/kg.
NECTARINES, apricots and peaches were found in the Victorian Produce Monitoring Program to be relatively high in residues, though most were under the legal limit. Many nutritionists recommend buying organic stone fruit because the flavour can be better. Inge says phytonutrients (antioxidants) can be found in flavour compounds and the more flavour and colour fresh food has, the better it is for you.
Organic nectarines $12.50/kg; conventional $6/kg.
THE Australian Total Diet Survey found pesticide residues on tomatoes, though within government-approved limits. Again, organic tomatoes are often thought to taste better and are more likely to be allowed to ripen naturally on the vine – the longer produce is allowed to stay on a bush/branch/tree the more nutrients develop.
Organic roma tomatoes $12.50/kg; conventional $6/kg.
OF THE 20 apples tested in the Victorian DPI program, 20 had chemical residues, though not over the legal limit. Because there is some evidence to suggest organic apples taste better, the same arguments about flavour apply here.
Organic Pink Ladies $8.50/kg; conventional $6/kg.
PARSLEY and other herbs are often sprayed with chemicals just before harvest and their big, leafy area is exposed to the sprays. Parsley had both a high level – over the legal limit – and a high rate of detection of pesticide residues in the last Victorian monitoring program. Epicure’s advice, especially if you use herbs liberally, is simply to grow your own.
Organic parsley $4 a bunch; conventional $2 a bunch.
All produce selected and priced at the Prahran Market, except conventional chicken, price based at Woolworths.
The School of Health Sciences at RMIT is conducting an online survey on the health experiences of organic consumers. Have your say at: surveymonkey.com/s/OHWS.
Why organic? Shoppers give their views
Arthur Karvelis, hospital technician
“I like the flavour of organic food so much better. I came from a family that grew a lot of food in the back garden. I started to think that the food I was buying was bland. About a year ago, I began trying organic produce and found it tasted so much better. I buy most of my fruit and veg organically.”
Fiona Brockhoff, landscape designer
“I have been buying organic food since 1987. I believe it is better for you, that there are more nutrients in it and less chemicals and I believe organic farming is better for the earth. It’s more expensive, but I don’t mind, I don’t resent paying more. My kids can pick organic from conventional; if I happen to buy apples from the supermarket they will say, ‘Ooh, Mum what have you bought?’”
Jo Burke, mother
“I love to bake for the kids but I try to use organic ingredients when I do. That way I think my kids are getting a treat but it is a healthy one. So I buy things – nuts, chocolate, spelt flour and puffed quinoa organically. I never do a full grocery shop, just dry goods including things like pasta. I do really believe it is better for you.”
Belinda Bardas, naturopath
“I just think the farming practices are better with organic food. I like that the food I buy is in season and it seems to last much longer. It just feels good to buy organic food.”
Mia Rappel, artist
“It makes sense to me environmentally to eat organic food. I think the farmers look after the earth and their produce better and operate with better ethics and I want to support them. I want animals to be treated humanely.”
Interviews conducted at Ripe the Organic Grocer, Prahran Market. Melbourne Victoria
Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/restaurants-and-bars/animal-vegetable-or-chemical-20111121-1nqek.html#ixzz1eNQbj3Vt