By Bill Turner
As I picked up a dozen organic eggs — at twice the price of “regular” eggs — doubts started springing to mind. My wife and daughters would want organic, but I suddenly realized that I wasn’t even sure what “organic” meant. I thought it meant no pesticides or herbicides, but how does that apply to eggs? I’d better check this out.
After a few hours on the computer, I had some new data. Organic really started as a sustainable agricultural movement. Think ecologically balanced, using manure as fertilizer to produce grain that feeds livestock that roams open pastures. No synthetic pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. Even more politically correct, organic food doesn’t use genetically modified organisms (GMOs), bovine growth hormones (BGHs) or antibiotics. Throw in some natural pesticides made with flowers and you’ve got an organic farm.
Humane treatment of animals is a big part of organic farming. To qualify as organic, animals (chickens, cows, pigs, sheep, goats, etc.) must have access to open pasture and not be confined in enclosed pens or barns. Therefore, organic chickens are “free range,” the beef is “grass fed” and veal calves are not raised in cages. This is a big issue for me since my daughters would never try my veal piccata. Now we have that problem solved with the organic option (I refuse to discuss how much it costs).
BIG BUSINESS AND GROWING
So, all this sounds good, but is it really important to our health and well-being? My friend Bob would say that there are only two things that are important — one is a good Manhattan and the other is not organic food. However, Bob may be out of step since the consumer has given a big thumbs up to organic food. Sales of organic products have grown from almost nothing in the early 1990s to $63 billion today and 91 million acres are now farmed organically (although this is only 1 percent of the total). Whole Foods Market has created a major corporation out of organic food.
Daniels Foods in Walworth now carries a broad range of organic food. “In the past few years, we’ve seen a growing demand for organically grown or produced foods,” says Terry Daniels, owner. “The trend seems to be in consumers in the 50 and under age range. Currently we are stocking organic items in almost every commodity with additional items being added on a weekly basis.”
Another local source for organic foods is Alden Hills Organic Farms located just south of Walworth. Their farm store open on Friday afternoons is a great source for all types of organic produce, poultry, eggs and meat. According to Levi Powers, farm manager/herb grower, not all organic farms are actually that. “Our farm undergoes third party audits and assessments so that you, the consumer, can have confidence that our products truly are organically raised and truly are GMO-free. Many farms say that they practice organic farming methods, but receiving outside inspections is the only way to guarantee it.”
He adds, “We feel we have a covenant with our customers to be held accountable.”
Still, I need to know if there is any science behind the organic movement. Here’s where it gets a little confusing. Many of the studies are funded either by the organic food industry or the conventional food producers. Not surprisingly, the results reflect the funding source. It’s like watching Fox News and then switching to CNBC; you think you’re living in two different countries.
FDA AND USDA SEAL OF APPROVAL
On the one hand, the supporters of conventional foods point out the degree of oversight that we have from FDA and USDA. Their scrutiny is so tough that some experts say that our food supply is overly safe. For example, if a milk cow or a laying hen is receiving antibiotics, their produce cannot be used. Every truckload of milk is inspected for residues of antibiotics, and The Washington Post reported that in 2012, only one in every 6,000 truckloads tested positive (and was dumped). In 2011, the USDA tested 497 egg samples from all over the USA and found no residues of any type — pesticides or antibiotics.
For produce, the USDA says pesticide levels are “very low” and are constantly monitored by USDA to make sure that they are in the “safe” range.
WHO TO TRUST?
On the other hand, the organic food advocates remind us that government organizations are sometimes wrong. Let’s remember the much-maligned egg, especially the yolk, which was considered a dangerous source of dietary cholesterol. However, we now know that dietary cholesterol has little impact on blood cholesterol. The body seems to seek a level of cholesterol, so when we eat more dietary cholesterol (i.e. eggs), our body produces less cholesterol, and visa versa. So, after about 20 years of fear, foreboding and endless egg white omelets, we are back to freely enjoying one of the least expensive and healthiest foods available. This good news is second only to the studies that showed that red wine was good for heart health.
These same advocates say that we need to be concerned about the residues from pesticides, herbicides and BGHs even if they are in the “safe” range. And, they say, nobody really knows the long term effects of GMOs. And, call me silly, but I like to see animals outside in open fields. Being a foodie, I know that cheeses especially get their flavor from the pasture available to the milk cows. Gruyere cheese gets its flavor from Alpine grasses. Parmigiano-Reggiano can only be made from cows who are grazing on open pasture in Emilia Romagna during the months of April to September. Modern dairy farming is moving to a confinement system where the cows never leave the barn. They go from free stalls where they eat grain, vitamin and hormone cocktails and go twice a day or more to the milking parlor. We are going to lose some of our great cheeses under this system.
Wow, this is so confusing! USDA says that the pesticide residues, BGHs and GMOs are not dangerous and there is “no clear evidence” that they cause harm. Wikipedia says there is “insufficient evidence” to prove that organic food is safer. Still, I’m not sure that I trust any of these guys that are telling me that everything is okay. It reminds me when I was a kid and doctors advertised their favorite cigarette brand.
This is so complicated that I need to use my “lifeline.” Better call my daughter, Kelly Turner. She wrote Radical Remission, a New York Times bestseller about alternative ways to fight cancer. Diet is a big issue for her and especially organic food. Maybe she could help resolve the conundrum.
She knew I needed something simple and told me to watch a YouTube video about a family that had always consumed conventional food. Each family member completed a complicated urinalysis, which showed that they had about a dozen residues of multi-syllabic words that no one can pronounce. After one month eating organic food, all residues disappeared. As Kelly said, “Maybe the jury is still out on whether conventional food is dangerous, but do we really want to take a chance? Go organic!”
FINDING ORGANIC FOOD LOCALLY
So, if you’re interested, here’s where you can get organic food in our area:
- The Farmers Market in Lake Geneva is an excellent source for organic meats and produce, mostly locally grown. It takes place at Horticulture Hall on Broad Street every Thursday from 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. through October. Fontana’s Farmers Market is offering more organic products. It is in Porter Court Plaza, (Hwy. 67 and Fontana Boulevard) every Saturday from 8 a.m. – 12 p.m. through September.
- Your local supermarket probably has an organic section. Daniels Foods in Walworth now has a big selection of organic produce and dairy products. They have their own brand called Wild Harvest.
- The Green Grocer in Williams Bay gets organic produce and dairy products delivered twice weekly.
- Alden Hills Organic Farms, just south of Walworth (N237 Alden Road), is a new organic farm in the area that has all cuts of beef, roasting chickens, eggs and a variety of produce. They have a store at the farm, which is open every Friday from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. They are supplying local restaurants like Pier 290 and they also sell at the Farmers Market in Lake Geneva. (www.aldenhillsorganicfarms.com)