How to Buy Organic Apples

These days, it seems increasingly difficult to know what to shop for at the grocery store. Is organic always better than conventional? What if it’s an “organic” product that’s been flown half-way around the world, burning up fossil fuels that contribute to global warming? How do you decide what’s better: A conventional apple grown locally with chemical pesticides, or an organic apple from another continent?

This cartoon depicts a common conundrum among consumers: How do you decide which grocery products are best for not just your own personal health, but also the health of the planet? It’s a more complex decision than it might first seem. For one thing, much of the information necessary to make an informed decision simply isn’t available to consumers. There is not determined enforcement of the rule, for example, that foods are accurately labeled with their country of origin. Nor is there any requirement to disclose which foods were grown with pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals banned in the United States (and U.K.) but still legal in other places like Central and South America.

If that last sentence surprises you, it should: not one in a hundred American consumers is aware that it is perfectly legal for U.S. chemical companies to export dangerous chemical pesticides (like DDT) that have been banned for use on crops in the United States. Those pesticides are sold to countries with lower environmental and health standards which turn around and use them on crops that are exported right back to the USA. So U.S. consumers end up eating produce grown with the very same pesticides banned in the United States, and it’s all perfectly legal and openly accepted by the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In the U.S., there’s also the issue of so-called “illegal immigrants” (which I believe to be a strange term, since in my opinion there’s no such thing as an “illegal” human being). On one hand, U.S. consumers demand cheap produce that can only be grown and harvested with the help of illegal immigrant labor. On the other hand, Americans grumble about too many Mexicans migrating into California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, claiming they are stealing jobs and bankruptcing cities and states. And yet, not surprisingly, when most consumers have a choice between a $3 apple grown on a farm that pays legal wages to U.S. workers and a $1 apple grown on a farm that pays “illegal” wages to an undocumented worker from Mexico, most Americans will choose the $1 apple (and in doing so, they are in fact continuing to vote for the very illegal immigration they claim to oppose).

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