Green Choices: Produce Buyer’s Guide

At the farmers’ market, or the supermarket, what do those labels mean?

The greenest choice for produce? Grow your own or buy organic produce from local farmers. But if you can’t do that, consider choosing foods with the following labels.

Certified Organic

OrganicCertified organic fruits and vegetables are grown without the use of pesticides and herbicides, genetically modified seeds or sewage sludge fertilizers. Farmers must conserve soil quality and often use non-toxic Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques, such as using ladybugs to control aphids or mint oils and cloves to deter pests.

Health benefits: Some preliminary research suggests that organic farming may, in some cases, increase the concentration of certain nutrients, such as antioxidants. It also reduces the chance of consuming minimal amounts of pesticide residues that can accumulate in fruits and vegetables.

Eco-benefits: Organic farming eliminates the pesticides and herbicides that can impact groundwater and aquatic plants, fish, birds or other wildlife. It also bans genetically modified crops, some of which can cross-pollinate and ultimately destroy the reproduction systems of non-GMO plants. Per bushel of corn, organic farming takes about 30 percent less energy than conventional farming, according to a recent review published by the Organic Center, a Rhode Island-based nonprofit.

Is it regulated? Yes, USDA monitors products with Certified Organic labels.

Keep in mind: Organic standards apply only to farming methods and do not regulate a sustainable production or packaging program and place no limitations on farm size. Also, many small farms may be organic but cannot afford the elaborate USDA certification process needed to get an official label.

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