If You’re Eating Packaged Food, Make Sure It’s Organic, Says EWG

Unless you like chemicals.

If you eat packaged foods EWG says choose organic
Credit: Image via iStock/NoDerog

Organic packaged foods are the only “safe” convenience foods, says a new analysis from the Environmental Working Group (EWG). 

According to EWG, which publishes its annual “Dirty Dozen” list of pesticide loads in fruits and vegetables, packaged non-organic foods can often contain “thousands of poorly regulated food chemicals,” that pose significant health risks.

“Although many consumers choose organic to avoid toxic pesticides, few know that federal rules dramatically limit the use of synthetic substances in organic food,” said EWG nutritionist Dawn Undurraga, one of the authors of the report. 

 The group says that organic foods, under the USDA National Organic Program, are limited to fewer than 40 chemicals and synthetic ingredients (typically if there is no organic alternative). But that’s not the case for non-organic foods. Cereal, snacks, salad dressing, and more can contain any of at least 2,000 chemical preservatives, synthetic colors and flavors, and other chemicals such as stabilizers and emulsifiers.

“The same companies that manufacture food chemicals are allowed to declare them safe,” said Melanie Benesh, EWG legislative attorney, a report co-author. “It’s like the fox guarding the hen house. For those consumers seeking ‘clean foods’ free from toxic chemical additives, organic is really your only option.” 

The group notes that in addition to the frequency of the chemicals, there are no FDA approvals required for adding to foods, EWG says. 

But because of the strict nature of the USDA organic program, chemicals and other ingredients are reviewed annually. Since 2008, 72 substances have been rejected for use in organics, EWG notes. 

“Consumers rightly assume their food is safe,” Benesh said. “But many food chemicals with connections to cancer and other serious health concerns have been deemed safe by chemical and food companies, not by the FDA.”

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