Organic vs. conventionally grown food

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Is buying organic food worth the money? It depends on whom you ask and what type of food you're talking about.

Experts still debate the health and environmental benefits of foods raised without pesticides and hormones, but there's general agreement that the potential payoff is greater for certain products. Buying organic usually costs about 15 percent more than conventionally grown foods.

Columbus Parent Magazine asked three food experts the best way for a health-conscious parent to shop responsibly without busting the grocery budget. Here are their suggestions:

Craig Minowa, environmental scientist with Organic Consumers Association in Finland, Minn.

Fruits and vegetables: Buy organic whenever possible, particularly in fruits whose skin is eaten.

Why buy organic: Pesticides used in growing conventional vegetables and fruits remain in the body and can cause health problems.

Cost-saving tips: If you can afford only some organic fruits and vegetables, buy them for your children because they are more sensitive to chemicals. Also buy local produce.

Milk: Buy milk that does not contain the hormone rGBH.

Why buy organic: The hormone, which is illegal in many countries, can impact children's hormones. Some believe it may cause cancer.

Cost-saving tip: Some non-organic dairies produce rGBH-free products that are not as costly as organic options.

Meat: Choose meats that are antibiotic- and chemical-free.

Why buy organic: Some studies have linked the chemicals to increased rates of cancer. Some chemicals have caused concern about the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Environmental reasons to buy organic: Hormones excreted through cattle waste can contaminate water and, soil according to some scientists.

Cost saving tips: Look for all-natural chicken which tends to be more available and affordable. Try using bison meat because most are raised on grass and vegetation without hormones or antibiotics.Marti Andrews, department of human nutrition at The Ohio State University, and president of the Ohio Dietetic Association

Fruits and vegetables: Andrews said there is not enough evidence to recommend organic foods over others. However, families that do buy organic food should choose berries and other skinless fruits and vegetables over bananas and others with a thick skin.

Argument against organic: There are conflicting studies about whether organic food is superior.

Milk: Any pasteurized product is okay.

Argument against organic: People drink milk for its calcium and all milk contains the same amount.

Meat: Not enough conclusive evidence about the dangers of antibiotics.

Argument against organic: Antibiotics intended for cows are unlikely to affect humans.Alexis Klenke, clinical dietitian, Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition at Nationwide Children's Hospital

Fruits and vegetables: Klenke suggests choosing organic berries and other fruits that don't have a peel whenever possible. She said she was unaware of any study that proved organic foods were more nutritional or tasted better than their conventionally grown counterparts.

Why buy organic: Studies have shown that pesticides used on fruits linger in the body and exposure to pesticides has been identified with neurologic health risks. Claims that organically grown fruits are more nutritious and taste better haven't been proven.

Cost-saving tips: Choose organic fruits and vegetables that are in season. Buy conventionally grown fruits and vegetables and wash thoroughly.

Environmental reasons to buy organic: Pesticides will pollute the air, water and soil and create additional dangers to children.

Meat: Klenke said she favors purchasing meat from cattle that have not been given antibiotics or hormones.

Why buy organic: Some public health officials worry that giving antibiotics to animals that aren't sick contributes to the creation of bacteria resistant to common antibiotics. There also are concerns about the effect of the hormones on humans.

Cost-saving tip: If you can't afford organic produce, choose leaner cuts of meat because the hormones tend to concentrate in animal fat.

Melissa Kossler Dutton has worked as a reporter for more than a decade. She's a frequent contributor to a variety of Ohio publications. She lives in Bexley with her husband and two sons.

Web exclusive:

The following fruits and vegetables present the highest risk, according to the Organic Centers March 2008 report, Simplifying the Pesticide Risk Equation: The Organic Option.

Domestically grown conventional fruits

  • 1. Cranberries
  • 2. Nectarines
  • 3. Peaches
  • 4. Strawberries
  • 5. Pears
  • Domestically grown conventional vegetables

  • 1. Green beans
  • 2. Sweet bell peppers
  • 3. Celery
  • 4. Cucumbers
  • 5. Potatoes
  • Imported conventional fruits

  • 1. Grapes
  • 2. Nectarines
  • 3. Peaches
  • 4. Pears
  • 5. Strawberries
  • Imported conventional vegetables

  • 1. Sweet bell peppers
  • 2. Lettuce
  • 3. Cucumbers
  • 4. Celery
  • 5. Tomatoes
  • Source: The Organic Center