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Why does it matter if food is grown organically?

Tulips bloom in Brookgreen Gardens.
Tulips bloom in Brookgreen Gardens. The Sun News file

NO GMOs. ORGANIC. The words scream from food labels at the grocery store. What do the words tell you about the food behind the label?

The term organic identifies how a crop is grown. Soil is unpolluted and improved with natural fertilizers like compost and manure. Insect control is carried out by natural, mechanical and biological methods, not insecticides. Weed control is achieved with natural methods like crop rotation, hand weeding, mulching and tilling, not herbicides. Organic rules prevent the use of GM (genetically modified) seeds.

Why does it matter if fruits and vegetables are organically grown?

Conventionally grown strawberries, spinach, nectarines, peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, carrots, pears cherries, grapes, kale, lettuce, tomatoes and hot peppers at the grocery store have exceedingly high pesticide levels. Yes, you can wash them before eating, but that does not remove all chemical residue.

Google/search online for EWG.org to read more about pesticide residue and download the 2017 Shoppers guide to Pesticides.

You can avoid chemical residue altogether by buying relatively expensive, organically grown fruits and vegetables and, as practical, growing your own.

Note: Heirloom does not mean organically grown. The term when applied to plants and seeds represents heritage. The seeds must be non GMO and open pollinated to qualify. Toxic sprays may or may not have been used. Check out your nearby farmers’ market for locally grown produce. Along with modern hybrid fruits and vegetables you will find flavorful heirloom varieties usually with greatly reduced chemical input.

About two thirds of the processed and packaged food on the supermarket shelves contains genetically engineered products. That may be in the form of oils, sweeteners, soy protein, amino acids, vitamin C and other such ingredients.

Genetic engineering combines the genes from different organisms. Desired DNA is extracted from an organism, cloned and placed inside a different organism. The DNA is inserted into the nucleus of a cell in the target plant material.

GMO seeds are not available to home gardeners. They are accessible only commercially by signed agreement between large farmers and huge chemical and seed suppliers like Monsanto. Corn (field and sweet) is the most widespread GM plant in the US. Seeds are also available for eight additional GMO crops: soybeans, canola, cotton, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya, summer squash and potatoes. A GMO apple has been approved and the seed will come to the market soon.

Wind makes it hard to control some pollination from GM corn and canola fields in particular. Critics of genetic engineering fear that this may cause cross pollination and resultant mutations in natural plants.

Critics are concerned about genetic modification that renders some crops more able to withstand insecticidal and herbicidal sprays in the field. That makes weeds, pests and diseases easier for farmers to control. However, resultant use of certain chemicals on crops may result in the development of super bugs and super weeds that require new more toxic products to control.

Scientific bodies around the world agree that food from today’s GM seeds is safe for human consumption. In fact GMO crops have been used for more than 30 years with no scientific evidence that GMOs are harmful.

Although GM foods have so far proved safe for consumption if there is a health risk it will show up in the future. Reasons for future concern include emergence of new food allergies, for example. Certain food crops contain a pesticide gene engineered to produce its own pesticide when a bug tries to eat the plant. How will this affect humans when we eat the same plant? What effect will this internal toxicity have on humans? In spite of GMOs clear record some scientists believe it was premature to introduce GMOs into the food chain.

Growing food is a complicated. The more you learn the more informed your purchases will be.

Reach Debbie Menchek, a Clemson Master Gardener, at dmgha3@aol.com.