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News In Brief

When do you buy organic? When do experts?

Adriene Hill May 4, 2011
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I never know when it makes sense to shell out extra money for organic foods. It’s one of the reasons I started working on the story for Marketplace this afternoon on feeding a growing world population.

For some shopping decisions, like what produce to buy if you want to avoid pesticides, there are guides. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” list of fruits and vegetables with the most and least pesticides. You can download the PDF here. There’s also an app.

But what really matters? The experts I talked to each had different answers to the question: “When and do you choose organics over conventionally grown food?”

Farmer and former California secretary of Agriculture AG Kawamura says the organic vs. conventional label matters a lot less to him then how recently the fruits and veggies were picked, and how good they look. He buys whatever is freshest.

Agriculture expert Mark Rosegrant from the International Food Policy Research Institute has a similar approach: “I’m sort of mixed I guess. I don’t religiously buy organics, but if there are some nice looking ones there, I’ll sometimes buy them.”

Cookbook author and food columnist Mark Bittman says if he’s got a choice he’ll always buy organic, with a few exceptions: “if something is local, and it’s really appealing and it’s not organic, I don’t care that much.” But, he said he thinks we need to come up with a better definition for sustainable food, something that means more than “organic.” “I want to see farm workers treated fairly, I want to see animals treated fairly, I want to see consumers treated fairly and I want to see the land treated fairly.”

Finally, Pedro Sanchez, from Columbia University buys organic milk “because I don’t like what they are doing to the cows.” He says he doesn’t like the way some dairy farmers overuse antibiotics. As far as other foods, Sanchez says, “I go with either one, and because of the price differential I go with the conventional.”

We want to know what you do? Do you buy organics? When and why?

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