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Unapproved Drugs in Nation’s Milk Supply / Organic Food a Better Alternative

Milk in a glass.
Above: milk.

In my last post, “Organic Redefined,” I expressed my surprise and concern towards the official definition of “organic.” However, I still believe in the health benefits of eating organic food. My research on what it means to be “organic” simply increased my knowledge on organic food and showed me that “organic” comes in several levels. At the top of pyramid (which equals the healthiest and most natural fresh produce) is organic food grown and processed by local farmers who willingly opted out of pesticide and growth hormone use on domestic plants and animals. As people who promote production of natural produce, these individual farmers are more likely to adhere to the strict production rules for organic food, thus ensuring the naturalness of the food.

The second most natural, safest, and healthiest foods are those that meet USDA’s criteria for organic food. Although not required to completely forgo pesticides, at least only pesticides deemed safe by USDA are used. Finally, the last category contains food with the highest possibility of being unhealthy, unnatural, or even contaminated and harmful to health. The foods in this category are consumed by most consumers, including myself.

Of course, the majority of the foods in the third category mentioned above are safe and healthy. Both the USDA and FDA regulate food production to protect consumers. Therefore, there is no reason to eat only organic food. However, the few foods that could be harmful to health due to contamination and illegal production methods may warrant purchasing selected items from the organic food store.

A January 25, 2011 article in The New York Times illustrates this occasional need to switch to organic produce. Titled “F.D.A and Dairy Industry Spar Over Testing Milk,” this articled by William Neuman reports on a dispute between the F.D.A and milk producers on milk testing. Because recent findings has suggested that  some older milk cows sent to slaughterhouse s had illegally high levels of antibiotic (and illegal antibiotics too) residue s in their flesh,  therefore raising the concern that the milk produced by contaminated cows also contain high levels of these antibiotics.  The F.D.A. would like to test milk for contamination with antibiotics that are not legally allowed to be used in animals, painkillers, and even anti-inflammatory drugs such as flunixin. However, due to the time needed for testing, usually a week for these unconventional drugs, the diary industry is concerned with milk spoilage if they wait for test results and a possible costly recall if they decide to begin selling the milk and milk derived products before test results become available. Either way, the dairy industry found the proposed drug testing in milk costly and the damaging to business and profit. Therefore, strong opposition from diary industry has prevented the F.D.A from moving forward with its testing plans. With the F.D.A now hindered from preventing possibly harmful food from reaching consumers, it is now necessary for the consumers to step up to protect themselves.

Although we as the consumers can’t control compliance with animal drug use regulation, we still have the power to choose whether we would like to purchase possibility contaminated food or not. When the quality of the food has possibility been compromised, the consumers should consider switching to organic versions of the same food. In the case reported by Neuman, consumers should switch from regular milk to organic milk. After all, we know for sure what’s in organic milk.

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2011 in In our food...

 

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Organic Redefined

Food face.
Above: food face.

When I hear “organic”, I instantly think of no pesticides, no growth hormones, and for some reason a shockingly bright green field cultivated full of young crops. Of course, organic foods include not only food crops but also domestic animals, and it is equally important and difficult to define what an organic domestic animal is as it is to define an organic crop.

Organic food, at least to me, is quite simply defined. No pesticides and no growth hormones just about summed up the criteria I have for labeling a food organic. However, a recent article on MSN Health & Fitness titled “The Heart of Organic,” and my subsequent tour of the USDA’s webpage on organic labeling, changed my perception and understanding on organic food. Organic food is defined in a much more complicated way than I had believed.

In the MSN article, Nathan Donahoe, a chef and food activist, shared what he believed to be the definition of organic food. The first part of the definition, which stated that “’Organic’ doesn’t mean there are no pesticides used, just those that are ‘allowed,’” instantly alarmed me as it shattered what I considered as one of the most important criterion for being labeled as organic. Don’t get me wrong, I am not alarmed by the use of pesticides in general. I’ve grown up eating  fruits and vegetables that are most likely de-bugged with pesticides, and despite the health problems that pesticide overuse could cause, I still have no grudges buying all my fresh produce from regular, non-organic supermarkets. In a sense, I’ve accepted the use of pesticides based on my belief that current regulations are safeguarding consumer health by ensuring the safe application of pesticides. Therefore, my alarm towards Donahoe’s definition comes from my realization that what I believed to be the definition of organic is actually incorrect. Indeed, I started to wonder how far does my definition of “organic” deviate from the official government definition of “organic.” Furthermore, how many people actually understand what organic really refers to?

With these two questions bugging me, I set out to find the official definition of organic food from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) website. Like Donahoe’s definition, the USDA’s definition also surprised me, both in a satisfied way and an unsettling way. According to the USDA National Organic Standards Board (1995):

  • “Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony.

  • “‘Organic’ is a labeling term that denotes products produced under the authority of the Organic Foods Production Act. The principal guidelines for organic production are to use materials and practices that enhance the ecological balance of natural systems and that integrate the parts of the farming system into an ecological whole.

  • “Organic agriculture practices cannot ensure that products are completely free of residues; however, methods are used to minimize pollution from air, soil and water.

  • “Organic food handlers, processors and retailers adhere to standards that maintain the integrity of organic agricultural products. The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people.”

From this definition of “organic,” I feel unsettled by the fact that it did not explicitly state that pesticides are not used during organic food production, but instead it seems to suggest that as long as the ecosystem seems to be balanced and not excessively damaged by the pesticide use, these substances can continue to be used in the production of organic food. This vague suggestion seems to confirm Donahoe’s claim that pesticides are still part of organic food production. Despite feeling unsettled by this fact, I somewhat rejoiced in the definition’s emphasis on sustainable and environment-friendly agriculture. To me, it’s a healthy environment that will produce healthy food.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2011 in In our food...

 

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