What and Why?The U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has set very strict national requirements for organic food. To be considered USDA organic, a plant crop must be produced without synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers, and without sewage sludge (which can contain contaminants from household products), bioengineering, or ionizing radiation. Organic livestock must be raised on organic feed, kept free of growth hormones and antibiotics, and allowed access to the outdoors. If a product has the USDA Organic label that means the product and the farm where it was produced have been inspected and okayed by the USDA.
Many people blame heightened levels of chemicals for a variety of health problems from cancer to ADD to obesity. Again, there are many opinions on what chemicals in what doses are unsafe. However, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out an annual list of crops that commonly have very high levels of chemical residue. This list is lovingly referred to as the Dirty Dozen and most recently named the following: peaches, imported nectarines, apples, grapes, strawberries, cherry tomatoes, hot peppers, sweet bell peppers, celery, spinach, cucumbers, and potatoes. If you’re interested in eating organic, the Dirty Dozen is a good place to start, and, coincidentally, many of the crops on the list can be raised in your own garden.