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Organic food gets parents' attention

  Making the most of organic foods. (Image courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/leaf)
  Making the most of organic foods. (Image courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/leaf)
Many doctors in the US have suggested for a while that kids under the age of 12 should be better fed than they were traditionally. They advise plenty of fresh, natural, organic or minimally-processed foods, because babies and young kids are more vulnerable to toxins than adults; parents have been going along with the idea.

Not surprisingly in the circumstances, organic food sales in North America have been rising 20% or more annually since the mid-1990s and their continuing surge has made considerable impact on America's industrialised food production, not to mention the organic food market itself.

The received medical wisdom is that eating natural or organic food dispenses with the dangers of excessive pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics or hormones usually contained in everyday fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy products.

Increasingly, responsible and health-conscious parents have been switching to organic foods for their kids even if it's more costly.

Unfortunately, there's a downside. So-called organic foods are more likely to be dangerous and harmful if they are supplemented by items like artificial flavouring, colouring or other chemicals during the manufacturing process.

The US Consumer Reports magazine recently revealed testing results for 88 fruit juice samples (in bottles, boxes and cans of concentrates) bought in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York between August and September 2011.

The report charged that five apple juice and four grape juice samples - admittedly not claiming to be organic - had exceeded the total federal limit level of 10 ppb for arsenic.

The highest arsenic level found in apple juice and grape juice samples was 13.6 ppb and 15.9 ppb respectively. Public concern peaked on the test outcome.

Other research studies warn that early arsenic exposure can cause "lasting harm" to children, with risks of cancer, brain development, endocrine and immune systems.

The World Health Organization (WHO) stated that arsenic exposure could cause conditions such as gastrointestinal problems, skin discolouration or lesions. If arsenic exposure is for longer than between five and 20 years, it could lead to the risk of various cancers, high blood pressure, diabetes and reproductive problems.

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also suggested that infants under six months should not drink juices, while kids up to aged six should drink no more than between 4 oz and 6 oz per day and older children no more than between 8 oz and 12 oz daily.

Concern over baby formula

Many natural food companies like to include DHA/ARA (fatty acids occurring naturally in breast milk) in organic infant formula, because it's thought to promote child brain development and healthy growth.

However, an article published on www.consumerreports.org said that some organic infant formulas in the US market have been found to consist of hexane, a toxic chemical substance that is primary produced through the refining process of petroleum.

It is believed that excessive hexane exposure can cause problems such as irritation, dizziness, headaches and nausea. Long-time exposure could lead to other problems and risks.

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) had already proposed a new rule to the US Department of Agriculture's National Organic Program (NOP) disallowing use of the additive hexane-extracted DHA/ARA in organic infant formulas.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had also recommended to the US Congress some labelling and advertising guidelines and nutrition regulations for food prepared in early 2012.

Meaning of "organic"

Parents and consumers increasingly need to learn the differences in the national organic standards set by NOP for certifying organic food products.

  • 100% organic: these must contain (excluding water and salt) only organically-produced ingredients;
  • Organic: should consist of a minimum of 95% organically-produced ingredients;
  • Certified with organic ingredients: must have at least 70% organic ingredients.

Labels need to be read. (Image courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/monkeybusinessimages)  
Labels need to be read. (Image courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/
monkeybusinessimages)
 
The term "organic" can't be used in a label for food products with less than 70% organic ingredients.

There is a sanction. Any person who knowingly sells or labels as "organic" a product that is not produced and handled in accordance with USDA standards rules is in violation of US law, which may result in a civil penalty of up to US$10,000.

Yet, the civil penalty can't guarantee food safety. Amid the food fears, parents have to be alert when shopping for food, organic or non-organic, for their family because they may naturally be influenced by a so-called "halo effect", tending to think that the term "organic" is connected with a food's caloric value.

Junk foods like sodas, potato chips and jelly beans are not "all-natural" health foods even though the sodas are sweetened with organic cane, potato chips are made with olive oil, and jelly beans are coloured with natural dyes. So, it's always worth consulting the label, to find out just what the nutritional facts are.

from Wai Yee Yeung, New York Office

Contact:
Company/
Government/Organisation
Tel/Fax/Email/Web
American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
Tel: (1) 847-434-4000
Fax: (1) 847-434-8000
Web: http://www.aap.org
Consumer Reports Web: http://www.consumerreports.org
Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Tel: (1) 202-326-2222
Web: http://www.ftc.gov
US Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Tel: (1) 202-720-2791
Web: http://www.usda.gov, http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/nop
World Health Organization (WHO)
Tel: (41) 22-791-21-11
Fax: (41) 22-791-31-11
Email: info@who.int
Web: http://www.who.int

Content provided by Hong Kong Trade Development Council
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