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Natural Foods Merchandiser

Deeper understanding inspires updated list

The original "Ten Reasons to Buy Organic" list was crafted in 1992 for Alfalfa's grocery bags as part of National Organic Harvest Month, but the list took on a life of its own, appearing on Web sites and grocery bags across the country. The original author, Sylvia Tawse, was then director of consumer affairs for Alfalfa's Market.

"Back in the day, there were no organic regulations or federal definition yet, so on the shopper level there was a lot of confusion about organic," says Tawse, now president of the industry consulting firm Fresh Ideas Group of Boulder, Colo. "I tried to take something complex and overwhelming and put it in digestible bites. It was also important that we didn't come off sounding like a cult, so every reason had a third-party source, either a scientific reference or a statistic from USDA."

Now Tawse has revisited the list with the assistance of Bob Scowcroft of the Organic Farming Research Foundation and Dr. Alan Greene, pediatrician and author of Raising Baby Green (Wiley, 2007). The new list, above, was unveiled at Natural Products Expo West in March.

"Now we have an organic standard and more consumer understanding of organics," Tawse says. "But the science has gotten scarier. There's much more food insecurity than there was 15 years ago."

Though some reasons remain from the original list, many have been expanded or changed position. For example, in 1992, the No. 5 reason was keeping chemicals off your plate. It has now moved up to No. 1 with an expanded definition.

"I was particularly interested in broadening this idea to reducing our toxic load everywhere," says Greene. "Half of our pesticide exposure comes from water. If it's out there, it's likely to be in the inner sanctum of our bodies. One particular study looked at the umbilical-cord blood of newborns and found 200 different chemicals present, pesticides and industrial chemicals included."

"Drift isn't just through the waterways, but also through the air, as with [genetically modified organisms]," Tawse says. In fact, the issue of GMOs wasn't on shoppers' radar in 1992.

"People talk about whether organic is proven to be a good way to eat, when in reality people have always eaten organic," Greene says. The concern should be "the modern chemical experiment, which has yet to be proven safe, with new things like cloning and GMOs rushed to market without proper testing."

Greene says that 30 percent of American cropland is now planted with GM crops, but a Pew study in December 2006 showed that, of shoppers who never buy organic, 78 percent said they'd never eaten GM foods. "When they're not aware, they don't see the reason to go organic," Greene says.

"People think organic is bigger than it is," Tawse says. "Yes, it's 3 percent of grocery sales but still only a half of 1 percent of our total available farm and pasture land." Encouraging the switch to organic agriculture, she says, is the critical issue.

Helping understand the true benefits of organic agriculture also shaped the list. Some items from the original list were combined while others are new, such as No. 8, "Eating With a Sense of Place," and No. 10, "Celebrate the Culture of Agriculture."

"Because it's more labor-intensive, organic farming is people-rich," Tawse says. "We need to get back to the humanity behind our food."

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 5/p. 20

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