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Comparing Apples to Apples—Another Good Reason to Buy Organic

May. 6, 2014|209 views

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What is it about the American food production system? Are Americans so shallow that they demand cosmetic perfection from their food, even if it means tacitly approving unseen poisons? Evidently, yes. The European Food Safety Authority—Europe’s version of the FDA—just banned the use of a substance that continues to be used widely in the U.S. Be careful what you put in your carry-on luggage; that apple you’re planning on taking on vacation just became illegal in Germany. It’s deemed unfit for human consumption in France; it’s considered toxic in Spain. 

The next time you shop for apples, notice the mounds of perfect, shiny produce. You’ll probably find at least a half dozen varieties available, and all will look perfect. Even now, in spring, months after the end of the harvest here in North America, the fruit on offer is undoubtedly picture-perfect. That’s great if you’re an artist and you plan on staging a still-life. But not so great if you’re a human being who’s concerned about your health.

That cosmetic perfection comes at a cost. Unless you stumbled into the organic produce section of your local market, you’ve probably purchased lovely looking apples that have been coated in diphenylamine (DPA). DPA is a chemical that growers dip their freshly-harvested apples in to prevent a storage problem called scald. Scald is visible as tiny brown spots on the skin of the apple. It’s not harmful to us. It just looks—well—imperfect. And we don’t feel comfortable with imperfection. (Incidentally, Granny Smith apples are the most susceptible to this post-harvest blemishing, so they’re the most likely to have been dipped in DPA solution. But others usually get a dip, too. And research shows that some varieties—such as Red Delicious—retain twice as much DPA as other varieties.)

The problem is simple. Research shows that under certain conditions DPA can break down into other chemicals, called nitrosamines. And nitrosamines have been linked to a greater risk of cancer. They’re carcinogenic. Back in 2008, European authorities began asking industry experts for more data about the widely-used chemical. They wanted reassurance that it’s perfectly safe for human consumption. But that reassurance was not forthcoming. So they banned the chemical in Europe. It was just that simple. They opted to err on the side of caution—meaning what’s best for human health in light of missing information. Predictably, the United States did not follow suit. And so here we are. Your only recourse is to buy organic apples. Otherwise…well, you might be safe. But you might not. Who knows? Evidently, not the apple growers or DPA manufacturers. They’re willing to gamble that you prefer cosmetic perfection over healthful, safe food with the occasional blemish. The choice is yours.

Tags:  organic
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