Contamination  - - Food, Bio, Organic and Natural Products
Contamination - Foods, Bio, Organic and Natural Products
Food Contamination : Organic vs Conventional - Preservatives
Food contamination is usually caused by unhygienic handling and storage, including use of contaminated water, which can occur on-farm, in transit, and at the point of preparation. And there is no general evidence of food contamination being caused or increased by organic farming practices.
Unfortunately, there are no natural models for preserving food the way it's found in supermarkets. Food with a long shelf life is the cornerstone of the food industry, providing most of the revenue and profits. In wealthier locales, an impressive array of technologies is used to make food last longer: home refrigerators and freezers at the consumer end, and industrial and chemical practices applied along the food production chain, from seed to field to fridge or table.
In general, organic standards cover this entire process, specifying what is an "organic" ingredient or practice. However, as there is little natural reference for preparing, for example, a precooked, frozen dinner, a "certified organic" label may be hard to understand. The main ingredients are one thing, the processes and additives used are quite another.
Thus, in developed nations: most of what is in supermarkets today can never be called "organic", in the broadest, "all-natural", fresh or minimally processed sense. The idea is not new, and whole foods have long been part of the health food diet. But if demand for organics intensifies, agribusiness interests dictate taking as much control as possible of the definition of "organic food", by including production practices that facilitate food preservation, in order to maintain the existing industry infrastructure.
Food safety - Organic food proponents express concern over the potential negative effects of various chemical cultivation methods and genetic modification techniques used in modern conventional agriculture. The effect of pesticide residues from crop spraying, the presence of veterinary drugs in meat products, and the entirely unknown impact of genetically modified varieties and breeds are all encompassed. Organic food is seen as avoiding relieving these concerns by prohibiting such practices. At present, there are no definitive scientific conclusions on any of these matters; individual studies are cited on both sides of the debate.
Chemical contamination - Organic food proponents cite the existence of reduced levels of pesticides and herbicides as a way to reduce the long term risk of chemical consumption. A study published by the National Research Council in 1993 determined that for infants and children, the major source of exposure to pesticides is through diet. A recent study in 2006 measured the levels of organophosphorus pesticide exposure in 23 school children before and after replacing their diet with organic food. In this study it was found that levels of organophosphorus pesticide exposure dropped dramatically and immediately when the children switched to an organic diet.
The degree of risk posed by pesticide residues remains uncertain. Pesticide use in conventional food products is heavily regulated, with established, research-based maximum residue levels (MRLs) below which residues are considered safe for human consumption. Also, many pesticides are not cumulative in the body, and are regularly eliminated. Notable exceptions include heavy metals such as lead or mercury which are sometimes found in foodstuffs in countries which have lax food production standards. The U.S. and most of Europe prohibit the use of inorganic compounds containing heavy metals in any type of agriculture including conventional.
One area where organically produced food is demonstrably different is in the reduction of nitrates, which are commonly used to stimulate production of conventionally farmed agricultural products. Nitrates reduce the transmission of oxygen in the bloodstream or may under certain situations become nitrosamines, which are carcinogens. Organic foods do not use nitrates as a fertilizer, and so present a reduced nitrosamines risk, although the use of nitrates and the nitrate content of the final product in conventional foods is regulated by region.
Organic methods of fertilization are not necessarily free from risk. Critics claim that using manure to fertilize organic crops might increase the risk of contamination by dangerous microbes like E. coli. However, organic animal manure, typically that of cattle, is manure from animals that eat mainly hay and other organic, primarily non-grain materials. This is seen as a way to reduce the amount of E. Coli bacteria present, and the feces of organically-raised cattle have only 1% of the E. Coli present in non-organic manure. Still, when using primarily manure to grow organic crops, the risk for mycotoxin contamination is significantly increased. Mycotoxins are the result of molds found in some varieties of cow feed, and even in very small amounts they can induce liver cancer if consumed over a long period of time. It is important to note that conventional farms also use manure as fertilizer but in much smaller quantities. It should also be noted that many organic farmers consider using manure directly as fertilizer to be an unsound practice, and instead the manure should be composted first. - Rarely, some small organic farms use composted human waste, using a composting toilet system.
Hormonal contamination - Organic proponents cite evidence that some chemicals used in conventional farming, including pesticides and herbicides, mimic hormones - usually estrogen - when inside a person. They claim that this is significant even at the minute levels that the average person is exposed to. The US government states that these chemicals are safe when used correctly, but proponents claim such tests are only done on healthy adults - and that children and fetuses might be at risk to even small amounts of these chemicals.
In Australia, the Government sponsored Australian Total Diet Survey measures pesticide residues found in typical Australian diets. The 2004 survey found all estimated dietary exposures to pesticide residues were below 16% of the respective Acceptable daily intakes and therefore all exposures are well within the applicable health standards.
Transgenic contamination - Certified organic foods are not substantially genetically modified. The health risks surrounding genetically modified foods remain highly contentious. In the USA, a small admixture of a GM variety is compatible with organic certification, as long as it is unintentional. The USDA regulates the organic production process, and does not verify the actual composition of the final product. So as long as the farmer complies with the rules of organic farming, he cannot lose his organic certificate solely because of random presence of transgenic variety. In most European countries, certification rules are much stricter. Basically, any confirmed detection of transgenic plant, seed or feed can result in a loss of organic status and cosenquent substantial economic losses for the farmer.
Other issues surrounding GMOs may also concern consumers, such as the ownership of biological intellectual property by corporations, and reduction in crop varieties.
With estimates that pollen of some crops (eg. canola) can travel more than 5 kilometers per year, we can be certain that the technology and marketing of organic foods will clash with the technology and marketing of GMO foods. In many countries, however, public awareness is limited and the battles seem to take place with a small elite in the GMO industry and the NGOs that oppose them.
Pesticide residues in food and drinking water, Hamilton, Denis; Crossley, Stephen . ISBN 0471489913. (2004) J. Wiley.
Our Children's Toxic Legacy: How Science and Law Fail to Protect Us from Pesticides, Yale University Press. Wargo, John (1998). ISBN 0300074468. -
Pesticides: problems, improvements, alternatives , Blackwell Science. Hond, Frank (2003). ISBN 0632056592. -
Pesticide, veterinary and other residues in food , Woodhead Publishing. ISBN 1855737345. - Watson, David H. (editor) (2004).
Extensive Press Release on Pesticides from the Ontario College of Family Physicians
EPA Pesticide, Food, and Nutrition
Pesticides in Food from the Northeast Organic Farming Association
NAP Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children. National Research Council. National Academies Press; 1993. ISBN: 0309048753.
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