Tag Archives: Organic Living

Some Tips on How to Pick Organic

I tend to go by the norm look for the label which says USDA Organic certified like the picture below. Natural or non-gmo etc do not mean Organic, mostly if a producer knows his produce is organic and he uses organic farming methods chances are he will write ORGANIC on his produce.

The USDA website says Products certified 95 percent or more organic display this USDA sticker. Do remember this is a voluntary seal which most Organic producers use.

As per the USDA what makes the organic food different from regular produce is the following criteria:

Here are other differences between conventional farming and organic farming:

Conventional farmers Organic farmers
Apply chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth. Apply natural fertilizers, such as manure or compost, to feed soil and plants.
Spray insecticides to reduce pests and disease. Use beneficial insects and birds, mating disruption or traps to reduce pests and disease.
Use chemical herbicides to manage weeds. Rotate crops, till, hand weed or mulch to manage weeds.
Give animals antibiotics, growth hormones and medications to prevent disease and spur growth. Give animals organic feed and allow them access to the outdoors. Use preventive measures — such as rotational grazing, a balanced diet and clean housing — to help minimize disease.

So when setting out to buy organic one way to do it is head to one of the major grocery chains and look for the organic section, or else head to a grocer who stores more organic food. I tend to shop at Trader Joe’s nominal prices, good selection and it still kind of has a small store feel to it which is not overwhelming.

Organic farming practices are designed to encourage soil and water conservation and reduce pollution. Farmers who grow organic produce and meat don’t use conventional methods to fertilize, control weeds or prevent livestock disease. For example, rather than using chemical weedkillers, organic farmers conduct sophisticated crop rotations and spread mulch or manure to keep weeds at bay.

When it comes to products sometimes it gets kinda tricky- some producers certify their products organic while others say 100% organic, you will need to read the labels to figure out what ingredient in the mix is organic and what is not.USDA guidelines are as follows :

  • 100 percent organic. Products that are completely organic or made of all organic ingredients.
  • Organic. Products that are at least 95 percent organic.
  • Made with organic ingredients. These are products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients. The organic seal can’t be used on these packages.

Some simple steps which don’t much affect your wallet and monthly budget are growing your own vegetables during summer (squashes, tomatoes etc flourish and are readily available to buy), Farmers market – you get fresh produce from the source and you help the local economy what can be better?

While deciding on Organic decide which is best for you, considering nutrition, quality, taste, cost and other factors. Each of us have to make decisions based on our circumstances.

  • Nutrition. No conclusive evidence shows that organic food is more nutritious than is conventionally grown food. And the USDA — even though it certifies organic food — doesn’t claim that these products are safer or more nutritious.
  • Quality and appearance. Organic foods meet the same quality and safety standards as conventional foods. You may find that organic fruits and vegetables spoil faster because they aren’t treated with waxes or preservatives.
  • Pesticides. Some people buy organic food to limit their exposure to these residues. Most experts agree, however, that the amount of pesticides found on fruits and vegetables poses a very small health risk.
  • Environment. Some people buy organic food for environmental reasons. Organic farming practices are designed to benefit the environment by reducing pollution and conserving water and soil.
  • Cost. Most organic food costs more than conventional food products. Higher prices are due to more expensive farming practices, tighter government regulations and lower crop yields. Because organic farmers don’t use herbicides or pesticides, many management tools that control weeds and pests are labor intensive. For example, organic growers may hand weed vegetables to control weeds, and you may end up paying more for these vegetables.
  • Taste. Some people say they can taste the difference between organic and nonorganic food. Others say they find no difference. Taste is a subjective and personal consideration, so decide for yourself. But whether you buy organic or not, finding the freshest foods available may have the biggest impact on taste.Source for the information USDA FDA website

Check out this video on Organic farming from the Boggy Creek farms in Autin Texas.

The following vegetables are the ones with the most pesticide residues there for going organic for those might be a good choice:

  1. Peaches
  2. Apples
  3. Sweet Bell Peppers
  4. Celery
  5. Nectarines
  6. Strawberries
  7. Cherries
  8. Lettuce
  9. Grapes – Imported
  10. Pears
  11. Spinach
  12. Potatoes

I had been to the local farmers market yesterday and was amazed to see how fast most of the produce disappeared! It is indeed a pleasure to be able to talk to the person/people who work hard and produce what we consume.

Some Organic farmers markets have been put together here
Live Green!
Check out this link too for more info

a good read –

The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming (New York Review Books Classics)

Seeds Of Deception III

Continuing from part I and II

I am still very much engrossed in Genetic Roulette it is 300 pages long and choke-full of information! As I wrote in the earlier posts GM foods and seeds have been of interest for me for some years now and I like most people thought “Well if the US FDA tags them safe, they must be safe!” On reading “Genetic Roulette” what I realized is how callous the system we trust to protect us is…

World over policy makers also go by the US FDA guidelines as it is one of the most trusted and touted organizations in the world when it comes to food and drug administration. It is assumed wrongly that the approval to GMO is done after extensive tests by the FDA or related organizations. The tests and research are carried out by the developers themselves (kind of like new medicines are tested by the very labs which manufacture them and then later on when there are severe reactions or even fatalities some whistle blower comes out and says “well the company knew that was possible, but was in a hurry to get the medicine out as it was a very small minority which showed a reaction to it etc…) and most of these studies are kept under wraps in the guise of “Confidential Business Information”. Very limited data of these studies are available for us to look at.

Jeffrey says in his book about how Genetic Engineering or Genetic Modification is looked up on as if DNA (Deoxy Ribo Nucleic Acid) is like Lego blocks and one could move pieces in and out as one pleases. He says the truth couldn’t be farther from it. He compares it to a well written book which is taken apart; pages and lines and even words are jumbled together and put back together with no particular order to it… will it make any sense? I guess not. He goes on to add when genes are messed with the changes in the DNA can produce massive changes in the functioning of the plant’s natural DNA. Inserted or spliced genes can mutate and produce un-intended characteristics.

In 1992 when Genetically Modified crops made their debut the FDA said The Agency is not aware of any information showing that foods derived by these new methods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way” and on that basis they said no safety studies are necessary and that “Ultimately, it is the food producer who is responsible for assuring safety”! This was also when there was an overwhelming consensus amongst the technical experts in the agency that GM crops were meaningfully different and still the 1992 policy was put into place. During this time Michael Taylor, who had previously worked as a lawyer for Monsanto, was Deputy Commissioner for Policy to oversee policy development.

Jeffrey Smith also says that the 44,000 pages worth of info released under freedom of information act reveals that the FDA was under orders from the White house to promote GM crops!! It is said in jest that the connections between these companies and the overseeing organizations are almost like a revolving door, Michael Taylor is now back in the FDA – on July 2009 US President Barack Obama appointed former Monsanto lobbyist and attorney Michael R. Taylor as a senior adviser to the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration)(I read this writeup about his appointment on The Daily Green check it out before you make your decision 🙂 )

The FDA’s 1992 Guidance for the GE Industry says “The 1992 policy does not establish special labeling requirements for bio-engineered foods as a class of foods. The policy states that FDA has no basis for concluding that bio-engineered foods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way, or that, as a class, foods developed by the new techniques present any different or greater safety concern than foods developed by traditional plant breeding.”

So legally the manufacturers are under no obligation to put a label on GMO’s unless the following hold true –

Under section 201(n), the label of the food must reveal all material facts about the food. Thus:

  • If a bioengineered food is significantly different from its traditional counterpart such that the common or usual name no longer adequately describes the new food, the name must be changed to describe the difference.
  • If an issue exists for the food or a constituent of the food regarding how the food is used or consequences of its use, a statement must be made on the label to describe the issue.
  • If a bioengineered food has a significantly different nutritional property, its label must reflect the difference.
  • If a new food includes an allergen that consumers would not expect to be present based on the name of the food, the presence of that allergen must be disclosed on the label.

Dr. James Maryanski, Biotechnology Coordinator, in FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) testified about Bio-engineered food safety in front of the senate in 1999 reiterated the safety protocols of the US FDA and said this in conclusion “FDA’s 1992 policy statement and our guidance documents make clear that pre-market clearance is required if there is scientific uncertainty about the safety of food derived from bio-engineered plants. The policy also makes clear that labeling will be required if the composition of the genetically modified food differs significantly from what is expected for that food, or if the genetically modified food contains potential allergens.”


The discussion accompanying each example is intended to provide guidance as to how similar statements can be made without being misleading.

  • “Genetically engineered” or “This product contains cornmeal that was produced using biotechnology.”

The information that the food was bioengineered is optional and this kind of simple statement is not likely to be misleading. However, focus group data indicate that consumers would prefer label statements that disclose and explain the goal of the technology (why it was used or what it does for/to the food) (Ref. 1). Consumers also expressed some preference for the term “biotechnology” over such terms as “genetic modification” and “genetic engineering” (Ref. 1).

  • “This product contains high oleic acid soybean oil from soybeans developed using biotechnology to decrease the amount of saturated fat.”

This example includes both required and optional information. As discussed above in the background section, when a food differs from its traditional counterpart such that the common or usual name no longer adequately describes the new food, the name must be changed to describe the difference. Because this soybean oil contains more oleic acid than traditional soybean oil, the term “soybean oil” no longer adequately describes the nature of the food. Under section 403(i) of the act, a phrase like “high oleic acid” would be required to appear as part of the name of the food to describe its basic nature. The statement that the soybeans were developed using biotechnology is optional. So is the statement that the reason for the change in the soybeans was to reduce saturated fat.

  • “These tomatoes were genetically engineered to improve texture.”

In this example, the change in texture is a difference that may have to be described on the label. If the texture improvement makes a significant difference in the finished product, sections 201(n) and 403(a)(1) of the act would require disclosure of the difference for the consumer. However, the statement must not be misleading. The phrase “to improve texture” could be misleading if the texture difference is not noticeable to the consumer. For example, if a manufacturer wanted to describe a difference in a food that the consumer would not notice when purchasing or consuming the product, the manufacturer should phrase the statements so that the consumer can understand the significance of the difference. If the change in the tomatoes was intended to facilitate processing but did not make a noticeable difference in the processed consumer product, a phrase like “to improve texture for processing” rather than “to improve texture” should be used to ensure that the consumer is not misled. The statement that the tomatoes were genetically engineered is optional.

  • “Some of our growers plant tomato seeds that were developed through biotechnology to increase crop yield.”

The entire statement in this example is optional information. The fact that there was increased yield does not affect the characteristics of the food and is therefore not necessary on the label to adequately describe the food for the consumer. A phrase like “to increase yield” should only be included where there is substantiation that there is in fact the stated difference.

The above are excerpts from the US FDA’s Guidance for Industry which were non-binding! The complete guidance can be found here

To me it sounds like it basically says that unless something is visibly different from what the food item is purported to be one is not under any obligation to label the food item as a GE or GMO. If it looks like a tomato, tastes like one etc… it should not matter to the consumer what kind of gene has been inserted into it to keep it from over-ripening on the grocers shelves week after week! Don’t we deserve to know what we are consuming? I believe we do…

This will be continued… I seem to be unable to make it concise (like kids say these days “MY BAD 🙂 “)

Sources :

US FDA. gov

Genetic Roulette by Jeffrey M Smith


Some abbreviations I use commonly in the post

GM -Genetically Modified (Also called GE for Genetically Engineered)

GMO- Genetically Modified Organism

10,000 Cows Can Power 1,000 Servers

HP Labs Design for a Farm Waste Data Center Ecosystem

HP engineers offers a fresh alternative energy approach for IT managers.

Researchers at HP Labs presented a paper on using cow manure from dairy farms and cattle feedlots and other “digested farm waste” to generate electricity to an American Society of Mechanical Engineers conference held this week.

In the paper, the research team calculates that “a hypothetical farm of 10,000 dairy cows” could power a 1 MW data center — or on the order of 1,000 servers.

Farms that now use anaerobic digestion system to generate electricity and heat typically get some funding from federal and state grants. In such cases, a payback of four years or less on the technology is likely. Without grants, the payback can be about 10 years, said McEliece, an environmental consultant for RCM International in Berkeley, Calif.


Research Paper [PDF]

Plant A Sunflower Patch – Help The Honeybees

Natures pollinators

Picture courtesy Mommamia

Do you live in the US or Canada? Do you have a green thumb? Care about our environment? A patch to plant some plants this year? Do you love honey? And have some time to spare?

If you answered “yes” to the above questions, keep reading! You might have noticed the price of honey climb a bit. Last couple of years was the poorest honey seasons in North America in many a bee keeper’s recent memory. The bees are an integral part of the environment as they help in pollinating a vast majority of the local plants.

The Great Sunflower Project aims to enlist people all over the US and Canada to observe their bees and be citizen scientists. It was done last year with good results and is on this year too.  All it takes will be less than 15 minutes of your time and it will help in figuring out what is going on with the bees.

All one needs to do is plant Lemon queen sunflower seeds (They are perennial seeds so it will come back the next year as well!), wait for the flowers to bloom and watch for the bees. Count the time taken for first 5 bees to arrive. Record it here and enjoy your sunflower patch and keep fingers crossed for the return of the healthy bees.

I have signed up hope you do too. Happy gardening and Green living!

get your own sunflower patch

Image Courtesy Trey Ratcliff

Dirty Dozen Veggies and Fruits – Why buy Organic?

Keep buying Organic
Image Courtesy marcp_dmoz

In this day of healthy Green living, Vegetables and fruits are making a come back to most diets. I have always assumed in some ways that it would be easier  being a vegan as it is all “natural”!  Organic produce is not so friendly on the wallet so I kind of pick and choose what I buy organic.

Growing up I had never seen perfect looking fruits and vegetables so often, there used to be some which would escape attacks from insects and other pests, but most would have some kind of dings, scrapes, cuts etc… Reading up on farming and all those e-coli outbreaks made me take a second look at what and how I eat.

Logged into yahoo today and found this post on the latest list of veggies and fruits to watch out for. It lists the 12 most pesticide laden veggies and fruits, most of which are a staple in our homes. The post says we can reduce our consumption of pesticides and other harmful substances by 80% just paying attention. One option is to buy locally grown produce, Certified Organic ones OR grow ones own vegetables and / fruits… well I am heading to the local farmers market come summer!

Read the post at Yahoo!green here