QUESTIONS ABOUT ORGANIC PRODUCTS ASKED AT KROGER BOOKSIGNING

I enjoyed my opportunity to speak with a number of customers at Kroger Alpharetta and Stone Mountain when I signed books this weekend and last.  Some had come because they heard my interviews at WSB (that felt particularly wonderful). And some were shoppers that had specific questions they wanted to address, with implications far beyond childhood.   

Interestingly, the topics were similar:

An organic farmer asked me what I think about GMOs and another individual asked whether organic products are worth the extra expense.

Genetically modified organisms are often crops that have been changed through genetic engineering in order to introduce a desired trait. To improve resistance to infestation or to a sprayed herbicide. To increase production, to prolong the edible shelf life, even to add nutritional value. Not a bad idea, using modern techniques of inserting a splice of DNA into a gene in order to supply more food for the world's growing population.  This used to take years with hybridization done to blend and better the plant stock. Now it is done scientifically, a modern adaptation of a traditional technique, by finding the right DNA linkage and implanting it into the gene of another plant, obtaining the intended result.

But the question of course: are GMOs it safe? The answer is probably yes, though we don't entirely know yet. The first product, a tomato that has a longer-shelf life and is more resistant to freezing was only released in 1994. And while no study has yet shown a problem for those consuming these products (and there are dozens of them now), some people have some concerns. A new crop of weeds and worms are resistant to some herbicides (in the same way that some bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics).

So those who are cautious about what pesticides and fertilizers are used to produce what they eat, and limit their intake to organic foods, would want to know what foods are genetically modified. If they stick to foods labeled as organic, GMOs are avoided, because organic certification excludes GMOs.

However, other foods do not require that labeling--as yet. Foods can even be called natural and not be organically grown or certified. So the interested public is now lobbying for labeling along with FDA regulation so individuals can make up their own mind about what they choose to eat at home and in restaurants. Already several groceries have indicated that by 2018, their products will be labeled even if the USDA has not required it. Advocates include Greeniacs.com which provides more information at http://www.greeniacs.com/GreeniacsArticles/Food-and-Beverage/Genetically-Modified-Organisms.html

That brings up the larger question, are organic products worth the premium you pay for them? I have to hedge that answer. Studies have not shown any difference in outcomes for individuals eating organic foods compared to those who don't. But (big but here), the organic movement has been in evolution since the 70s with organic farmers organizing in California, but wider regulation in Europe and the US has only been in place for the last 20 years. So not all the data is in--though organic advocates do anecdotally say they feel better and plan to continue, even with the extra cost.

BOTTOM LINE: Organically certified products exclude GMOs, and require specific health-conscious farming methods. However, nutritional studies have not shown any difference in outcomes for those eating only organically grown foods, as of this date--though organic advocates are rarely hesitant to tell you they feel better and plan to continue.