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Parents are faced with many decisions before and after baby’s arrival — whether it’s selecting all of the right infant equipment or finding a suitable daycare. Expenses can add up quickly, so new parents are often searching for money-saving strategies.
One question parents may be asking themselves is, “Should I buy organic foods for my baby?” While it may be tempting to go with a lower-cost conventional option, let’s look at why it can be worth ponying up a few extra pennies for organic.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), organic animals must be raised in a way that “supports their health and natural behavior.” They must live on certified organic land where they are allowed year-round access to the outdoors, they must be fed a 100-percent-certified-organic diet, and they cannot be treated with antibiotics, hormones or other prohibited ingredients. As the USDA states, “Organic management reduces stress, reducing the incidence of diseases and supporting animal welfare.”
Organic crop producers must avoid using genetically modified seeds. Instead, they utilize other methods, such as crop rotation, to preserve soil quality and fertility. According to the USDA, in lieu of pesticides, herbicides or fungicides, organic growers rely on the “PAMS” strategy for pest management, which stands for “prevention, avoidance, monitoring and suppression.”
A product bearing a certified organic seal means that the product is at least 95 percent organic and has met all of the rigorous USDA organic guidelines.
Obtaining and maintaining organic certification, providing better living conditions for animals and employing other organic practices simply costs more than conventional farming methods. So it only makes sense that organic foods will be slightly more expensive than non-organic ones. According to the Organic Farming Research Foundation, “The organic price tag more closely reflects the true cost of growing the food: substituting labor and intensive management for chemicals, the health and environmental costs of which are borne by society.”
But is it worth it to pay a little more for organic? Let’s take a look at the benefits.
For most people, the term “antibiotic” conjures up the medication that your doctor would prescribe for a bacterial infection. What you may not know is that the largest consumer of antibiotics in the United States is actually livestock, at approximately 80 percent.
Experts warn that antibiotic overuse is contributing to the development of resistant strains of bacteria. According to the Center for Disease Control, “Scientists from around the world have provided strong evidence that antibiotic-use in food-producing animals can harm public health.”
In the United States, at least 2 million people a year contract antibiotic-resistant infections, with 23,000 dying from them. Very young children, immunocompromised individuals and the elderly are particularly vulnerable. While an increasing number of conventional livestock producers are now recognizing this problem, one way to be sure that we are avoiding antibiotics in meat and dairy products today is to choose organic.
In addition to antibiotics, many conventionally raised livestock are given hormones to help them grow larger, faster. Research has shown that dairy cows treated with the growth hormone rBGH produce milk with up to 10 times more insulin growth factor (IGF) than untreated cows. Several studies have found a link between elevated IGF levels and cancer.
Another type of medication given to livestock in the United States is a beta-antagonist drug. This drug is designed to improve protein synthesis, thereby increasing lean muscle and decreasing fat. While this mechanism might sound beneficial, experts warn that animal products contain drug residues, which could be linked to cardiovascular and other health issues.
The use of beta-agonist drugs is against the law in over 160 countries, but they are approved to treat cattle in the United States. Thankfully, organic animals cannot be given any added hormones or synthetic medications.
According to the Institute for Responsible Technology, “a GMO is the result of a laboratory process where genes from the DNA of one species are extracted and artificially forced into the genes of an unrelated plant or animal.” Vyvyan Howard, an expert in infant toxico-pathology at Liverpool University, notes that “swapping genes between organisms can produce unknown toxic effects and allergies that are most likely to affect children.”
In the United States, 94 percent of conventional soy and approximately 90 percent of corn is currently genetically modified. On some non-organic dairy farms, genetically engineered recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST) may be used to increase milk production. One way to avoid GMOs is to purchase organic or certified non-GMO products or buy foods that have not yet been genetically modified.
From lawns to parks to schoolyards, pesticides are all around us, so avoiding them completely is next to impossible. Believe it or not, newborn babies enter this world with detectable amounts of chemicals, including pesticides, already in their blood.
Pesticides may be linked to an increased risk of cancer, hormonal and neurological issues, developmental and behavioral issues, and other health problems. A study published in 2000 suggested that “one out of four developmental and behavioral problems in children may be linked to genetic and environmental factors including exposure to lead, mercury, and organophosphate pesticides.” More studies are needed to determine if a cause-and-effect link exists and what amount of pesticide exposure could potentially lead to health issues.
A meta-analysis published in the 2012 Annals of Internal Medicine found that consuming non-organic produce caused a five-fold increase in exposure to pesticide residue. In addition, a meta-analysis published in The British Journal of Nutrition in 2014 found that organically grown produce had lower levels of pesticide residues and lower concentrations of cadmium. Because synthetic pesticides are not allowed in organic farming, choosing organic foods means that we can greatly reduce our exposure to pesticides through our diet.
Nearly 40 percent of the earth’s land is farmland, which not only provides the food for us to eat, but also serve as habitats for a wide range of plant and animal species.Whereas some conventional farming has been associated with environmental issues like waste runoff, greenhouse gas emissions and soil degradation, organic farming is designed to preserve surrounding wetlands, water lands and wildlife.
Approximately 70 percent of the world’s fresh water is used for agriculture. Organic farming practices help to preserve and sustain water sources. According to the USDA, organic agriculture is defined by “a set of cultural, biological and mechanical practices that support the cycling of on-farm resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.” When you choose organic, you are making a positive environmental choice.
One of the pillars of organic farming practices is to preserve and nurture the quality of the soil in which the produce is grown. A high-quality soil not only increases the nutrients of the plants within it, but it also helps to protect the beneficial soil bacteria and worms and prevent soil erosion. It can create stronger crops that naturally resist insects and disease and are more likely to survive drought conditions.
According to natural health expert Dr. Max Gerson, soil quality is of paramount importance. Much like a mother feeding her baby, the soil plays a significant role in the plant’s life, he notes.
An analysis of more than 300 studies published in The British Journal of Nutrition found that “organic fruits and vegetables deliver between 20-40 percent higher antioxidant activity” compared to conventional produce. Dietary antioxidants may reduce the incidence of some health conditions.
Compared to animals raised in confined feedlots, organic animals are found to contract fewer illnesses and infections and maintain better digestive and overall health. A study found that organic dairy and meat contain 50 percent more omega-3 fatty acids than non-organic meat and dairy. Omega-3 fatty acids are important for lowering inflammation and supporting heart and brain health.
If you’re sticking to a tight budget and can’t afford to buy all organic food, consider going organic in several categories: animal proteins, GMO foods and the “Dirty Dozen” — the 12 fruits and vegetables that are most heavily contaminated by pesticides.
Healthy Times is proud to sell products made with love to families across the world. Manufactured in the United States, our baby cereal, toddler formula and cookies are USDA certified organic. That means no genetically modified organisms or potentially harmful fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. Our products are free of artificial additives and preservatives.
About the Author: A nutritionist and the author of The Perfect Metabolism Plan, Sara Vance is a passionate advocate for natural approaches to health. She regularly offers cooking and group classes and has developed a series of online courses to empower people to use foods to balance their metabolism and overall health. As a mom and a specialist in childhood nutrition, Sara loves working with kids, speaking frequently at school assemblies and leading children’s workshops. Sara is a frequent guest on the Fox 5 San Diego show, CBS Los Angeles, KUSI and CW 6. She has contributed to Delicious Living, Mind Body Green and Refinery29. Sara has also filmed videos for eHow and created a Kids Yoga series for GaiamTV.
The content provided in this article is intended for informational purposes only. It is not recommended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem without consulting a qualified healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional regarding any medical questions or concerns. See additional information.