We can already hear the organic food naysayers: Highest quality? Healthy products? Hogwash — the organic industry just wants you buying more of its goods.
But the truth is choosing organic-certified foods — when you can and can afford to — is one of the best choices you can make for your children. We should know: as a mom of two girls and an author of books about sustainable food (Anna) and as a pediatrician and father of four (Alan), we have a handle on the research as well as firsthand experience.
We choose organic because we know, for example, that children fed an organic diet have much lower levels of metabolites of high-risk insecticides in their bodies. We also know that choosing organic food reduces the risk of exposure to toxic pesticides in our diet. The 2008–09 President’s Panel on Cancer report stated, “The entire U.S. population is exposed on a daily basis to numerous agricultural chemicals.” Many of these chemicals are known or suspected to cause cancer or disrupt our hormones, mimicking testosterone or estrogen, its authors continued. “Nearly 1,400 pesticides … registered by the Environmental Protection Agency for agricultural and nonagricultural uses … have been linked to brain/central nervous system, breast, colon, lung, ovarian cancers … as well as Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma” and more.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has also warned about the exposure to pesticides. “Children encounter pesticides daily and have unique susceptibilities to their potential toxicity,” it wrote in 2012, and “chronic health implications from both acute and chronic exposure are emerging.”
While we can’t limit all of our children’s exposures to toxins in the environment, we do have a say in the food they eat. And one of the best ways to limit their exposure to these chemicals is to choose an organic diet. Because of the persistence of pesticides in the environment, no food is 100% residue-free, but Chuck Benbrook of the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University has found that organic food has significantly lower pesticide residues than conventional food.
Choosing organic meat and dairy for your kids is also the best way to ensure that they’re not exposed to endocrine-disrupting chemicals like the synthetic hormones given to nonorganic livestock to speed growth and alter reproductive cycles. And choosing organic meat and dairy means your children are not fed meat that was raised on daily doses of antibiotics to speed growth, leading to dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Your kids will get more of the good stuff too. A recent study comparing organic and nonorganic dairy production, commissioned by the farming cooperative Organic Valley, found a medically significantly higher concentration of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids in organic products. “Organic Valley is proving what our farm families have known for a long time,” said George Siemon, a founding co-op member. “Not only is high-quality pasture and forage better for cows, it produces nutritionally superior whole milk.”
Organic food is a healthy choice for all of us but especially for kids. Infants and children are particularly vulnerable to chemicals, in part because their immune systems are still developing and in part because, pound for pound, they’re exposed to more chemical residues than adults. Another reason is that children and babies tend to eat a lot more of certain foods than adults — think bananas or apples.