The last several columns provided general background on the rapidly expanding organic foods market. Today’s column briefly outlines conventionally produced foods to highlight the differences between the two. Perhaps the first question to deal with is “Are conventionally produced foods inorganic?”
• First, this column is addressing the production, not the processing, of foodstuffs and is not wading into additives, preservatives and processing.
• Remember that any “food” you consume providing nutrition is carbon based (excluding certain minerals) and so it is all “organic.” The organic label refers to certain guidelines and production techniques not the physical makeup of the food.
• Briefly, conventionally produced foods allow what organically labelled foods don’t – synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, GMOs, antibiotic use, animal supplementation and growth hormones. However, just as there are regulations regarding what can be labelled organic, there are rules and regulations regarding conventional food production.
• Please keep in mind that conventional producers, many of them, may use organic sources of fertilizer such as manures and legumes. They also practice integrated pest management techniques which balances environmental and safety concerns with production.
• The major point with input use for conventional food production is the degree of regulation involved. Restricted pesticides have strict protocols on everything from timing and rate to pre-harvest intervals. They must be approved be approved by the EPA and undergo periodic review for efficacy, safety for people, and for the environment. Foodstuffs are tested and safe pesticide residue levels determined which cannot be violated. Levels allowed are extremely low and well below levels of concern. GMOs undergo extensive testing for potential negative environmental effects before release. Fertilizer use is monitored to minimize potential environmental damage,
• Use of antibiotics and other products for livestock production is well-defined and are under constant review. Public comment is allowed for rule and regulation changes for the use of these products.
• The conventional foods coming out of the field are regulated for safety. Programs such as HACCP and BQA work to insure a safe quality food supply. This isn’t to imply that accidents and mistakes don’t happen but there are procedure in place to minimize these problems and correct them as new information comes to life.
• In terms of food safety – no reliable, repeatable research has found conventional food production to be unsafe. Foodborne illness outbreaks happen for both foods. In terms of nutrition – foods produced either way can be nutritious and flavorful. It really is a personal choice.
Either way it pays to consider that we have the luxury of debating this issue because we have a safe, abundant, cheap supply of food.