Organic Or Conventional? Choice Is Yours

Organic Or Conventional? Choice Is Yours
It was a slender, frosted, bejeweled wonder of a bottle -- promising refreshment, class and sophistication in a single sip. Maybe it was the name, “Bling,” spelled out in Swarovski crystals which lured me in, but it was water. A quick check at the price tag on the bottom and I can tell you--this practical Iowa farm girl won’t spend $25 for a bottle of water!

“Bling” and many other designer waters drip volumes about the kind of person who buys it. It says, “I’m sooo much better than tap water,” “I’m special,” “I’m health-conscious.” Sure, the good ole’ tap water is still available, but the waiter will sniff and offer that choice to you as a last resort when you’re ordering in a four-star restaurant. To me, designer water has a place, a market and a purpose, much the same as organic food. But the motivation for those who seek it is much the same: perception. They’ve obviously bought the marketer’s “pitch”: hook, line and “Bling-(er).”

Maybe it’s a sign of the economic times or a growing trend of thriftiness, but it seems the once impenetrable “bling” of the organic movement suddenly has some detractors. The Food Standards Agency in Britain published a report ( that compiled 50 years’ worth of food studies on the health benefits of eating organic food. They concluded: “There’s no good evidence that consumption of organic food is beneficial to health, based on the nutrient content,” said Dr. Alan Dangour, who led the review. The study went on to claim that although organic crops have less pesticide residue than conventionally-grown crops, that residue had no impact on health. Furthermore, they say organic has “high levels of natural fungal toxins.” So, as my Grandma would say, it’s a case of a “half dozen of one, six of another.”

Clearly, as long as consumers want a choice, farmers will provide it. According to the 2007 Ag Census, out of the nearly 93,000 farms in Iowa, 522 of them are “organic.” To be able to put the USDA “organic” seal on food, 95 percent of the ingredients in the food can’t be raised or grown using common commercial fertilizers (but manure is okay); certified organic farms also can’t use pesticides or seeds that contain genetic engineering (even if they make the plant more pest or drought resistant) and can’t be irradiated to remove bacteria; and organically-raised animals can’t be given growth hormones or antibiotics. If animals become sick, they’re treated, but no longer qualified “organic.” Random farm inspections by a USDA-certified inspector are also part of earning the USDA “organic” seal.

Greg Rinehart, a practical, God-fearing, hard-working family farmer from Boone, Iowa has been growing food for nearly 30 years. Although about 30 percent of his crops are organic, Rinehart probably won’t ever go 100 percent organic because “it’s just too much work and my customers won’t want to pay the extra that it would take to weed, clean and harvest it all by hand.” Father of 10 children, Rinehart has a keen sense of the value of farm labor! He says after nearly 30 years, he can’t taste the difference between organic crops and conventionally-grown crops.

The truth is: it comes down to choice -- yours. Consumers should feel good that there are farmers out there like Rinehart and others who grow organic or conventionally-grown food -- both of which are clearly healthy and nutritious. Isn’t that what living in the good ole’ USA is all about -- freedom to choose how you want to live? Freedom to put the kind of food you want on the table instead of condoning one as “good” or “bad”? I guess the good news is Iowa farmers are listening and growing what you want. The rest is up to you and your pocketbook.

Laurie Johns is Public Relations Manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau