Got Organic?

Organic MilkOne of the questions I hear over and over again is this: “Why should I spend money on organic, when I can buy the same thing for a lot less?” Well, it’s not really the same thing . . . here’s the dilemma.

Take a trip to your typical supermarket. In the produce section, choices are labeled “organic” and “conventional”. Does this really mean conventional, the way it’s always been done? In this context, “conventional” means CHEMICAL. But if labeling were consistent with what you’re really buying — “conventional” (meaning organic) and “chemical” (meaning grown with toxic chemicals) – would that be helpful?

As a consumer, I do want to know what I’m buying. And as a chef and caterer specializing in vegetarian weddings, I buy only high quality ingredients. But many of us do not want to be reminded of what we’re actually choosing. Ignorance, they say, is bliss – especially when that ignorance is due to misleading and unreliable information.

Labeling conventions are not made by groups advocating consumer safety but by the companies making the chemicals and the genetically modified foods. Scary? Consider the case of milk. While many of the fruits and vegetables grown with chemicals can be rendered less toxic – by peeling, for example – milk is a different story. Since 1994, as much as 80- 90% of the “conventional” milk sold in the US has come from cows injected with a hormone designed to increase milk production by 15-25%: Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH or rBST).

What’s wrong with increasing the efficiency of milk production? There are many problems related to the injection of Bovine Growth Hormone. First of all, the abnormal fullness of the animal’s udder often leads to mastitis, an infection that can add pus to the milk (huh?) and is treated with an extra dose of antibiotics. Hormones are strictly regulated substances and, in very small quantities, affect our metabolism in big ways. Artificial hormones do not belong in anyone’s diet. Bovine Growth Hormone is “grown” by being inserted into the DNA of E.coli bacteria – the ones responsible for the recall of millions of pounds of hamburger meat — and then injected into milk cows to increase their milk production.

Monsanto, the original producer of Bovine Growth Hormone, spent millions of lobbying dollars to get FDA approval for the use of rBST in milk cattle, despite serious health concerns and warnings from nutritional and agricultural experts.

When organic dairy farms began labeling their milk as not containing rBST or rBGH, Monsanto was able to buy another significant victory. Not only were dairies not required to identify the RBST or rBGH in their milk. To further befuddle the U.S. consumer, dairy farms not using the hormone now had to add a disclaimer, stating that “there is no significant difference between milk raised with or without growth hormones.”

That last travesty came to an end in September 2010, when the 6th Circuit Court ruled that prohibiting organic dairy farms from labeling their milk as produced without growth hormones was illegal. Milk from rBGH-treated animals has been legal only in the U.S. and Mexico. All other industrial countries have banned it and its products. A study by Eli Lilly, another producer of rBGH, found that milk produced with growth hormones had the following characteristics: elevated levels of IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor – linked to certain cancers), lower nutritional value, and a higher count of somatic cells (causing the milk to spoil faster).

It is encouraging that the demand for milk produced without growth hormones is steadily increasing, with many large chain stores refusing to stock rBGH dairy products. Got milk? Go organic — and stay informed!

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