Saturday, January 3, 2009

Is Organic Safer? (The Dental View)

I had a chat with my dentist today. That is, as much as anyone can say anything, while that sadist has a drill in your mouth and goes on ad infinitum on issues to which you can't reply. He asked me what I had been doing lately (probably the kind of safe conversational question they teach you to ask in dental school when you can't remember a thing about your current patient). I answered that I was writing a book on Food Safety, surprised that I actually managed to get out a total of 8 words before he jammed more cotton and drills in my mouth.

'Oh,' he said. 'Great...very interesting. Of course, I just eat organic fruit and vegetables so I don't need to worry about that. No need to wash off chemicals or anything like that. Perfectly safe. Wonderful....Apple a day to keep your gums healthy and all that'....etc. etc. There was about 10 minutes more along the same lines. I kept having drill-powered dreams of him clutching his stomach in agony with a bad case of food poisoning.

''...I said. Or something that sounded like that. He paid no attention. When he eventually gave me a breather, and after he had expressed his views on about 5 other topics, 4 of which I strongly disagreed with, but had to suffer in silence, I asked: 'Back to organic produce - you mean you never ever wash any organic fruit or vegetables?'

'No, he answered. 'No need to. No pesticides. Good clean stuff.'

I was amazed...horrified. But afterwards I found that a couple of my friends shared his view. But of course, they're wrong. While research has shown that organic produce that is grown and processed according to the standards of the USDA’s National Organic Programme has less chemical residues than nonorganic produce, it can carry some - roughly about a fifth as much. This may be from previous land use, contaminated irrigation water, pesticides in rain or groundwater, chemical sprays drifting from neighboring non-organic farms or mixing or mis-labelling of the produce. Disillusioning, yes, but unfortunately true.

And what about bacteria and other microorganisms? A few years ago a TV programme created an uproar because it argued that organic produce may actually be more dangerous than traditionally grown fruit and vegetables. Some food scientists also argue that Organics’ heavy use of animal manure and other organic waste can pose health risks. On the other side of the fence, organic advocates say that is not true because of the very ridid safety measures organic producers use.

Whatever the case, if you don't want to risk it, wash it, organic or not organic. Organic may be safer in terms of chemicals, but can be just as dangerous in terms of microorganisms. And who wants those.

Keep eating...


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