By Dr. Anthony Policastro

It’s hard to head to a supermarket without seeing labels for organic foods. In 1996 about $3.5 billion was spent in the U.S. on organic foods. That number rose to $28.6 billion in 2010. It is probably significantly higher now.

A key question is what do the labels mean. For example some foods say “made with organic ingredients”. All that means is that 70 percent or more of the ingredients are organic. Products can be labeled “natural” simply by not adding artificial ingredients or color.

True organic foods have specific labels. They can be labeled “100 percent organic”. They can be labeled “USDA organic”. They can be a foreign government’s organic product for imports. So the first issue a consumer will face is figuring out what is really an organic product.

The next is related to cost. Organic foods cost between 10 and 40 percent more than those that are not. For some people that is a significant expense. That is especially true for families having trouble affording healthy food in the first place. It creates a question as to whether buying organic foods is worth the extra expense for those individuals.

A lot of that depends on the benefits to be gained by the extra expense. One related question is whether or not organic products are healthier for you. We know that they contain more minerals than processed food. We know that they contain more plant metabolites than processed food.

What we do not know is how much more. That is simply because the amount of those things present in organic foods vary. They are affected by geography. They are affected by climate. They are affected by soil related factors. They are affected by time of harvest. They are affected by storage time.

With all these factors, it makes for a large variety in nutritional benefit. The average consumer has no way of knowing any of these things. That also means there is no really good way of calculating specific nutritional benefits from organic food in general.

There are theoretical benefits. It may lessen food allergies in young children. It might cut down on antibiotic resistant bacteria on meats. It may provide a better mix of fatty acids. However, scientific studies to look at these benefits have not really proven it one way or another.

Some people think that it is better for the environment to grow things organically. Actually, the need for more acreage to be planted to get the same amount of crop kind of defeats that idea.

There is one clear cut benefit. Organic foods have much lower levels of pesticides. Pesticides have been linked to a number of health issues in children. They have been suspected to increase childhood cancer. They have been suspected of causing neurological and behavioral issues. This includes a potential link to autism. They have been suspected of causing endocrinological issues.

The result of all this is that we have no clear scientific evidence that organic foods are healthier than nonorganic foods. We would like to believe that they are healthier. We just do not have that proof.

The one thing we do know is that time from farm to table is important in preserving nutrients. Therefore, it makes sense to get fresh produce from local farms whenever that is possible. Those foods will have the lowest amount of nutrient deterioration.

It would be great if I could tell you exactly what to do about buying organic the next time you go shopping. Unfortunately, we do not have all the answers for that at present. Hopefully, the information provided here will allow you to decide that for yourself.

COVID update- Nationally the number of new cases was at 850,000 last week. This compares to 1,048,000 and 1,047,000 the previous two weeks. As I said a few weeks ago, the winter surge lasted 101 days. We hit 101 days this time on Sept. 30. Perhaps this surge will see a similar wave.

Sussex County has not shown the same drop. It was 895 last week and 898 this week. That is four weeks in a row over 787 new cases.

The FDA and CDC have provided recommendations for boosters that were a little different. The FDA emphasized the need for giving boosters to individuals with high risk occupations. A CDC panel included the same recommendation. The CDC Director did not agree with that particular recommendation. This still only affects those who received Pfizer vaccine.

It appears that Ivermectin has become the new miracle drug. The actual data on its value is conflicting. One thing we do know for certain: it is not a miracle cure.

Similar things happened with hydroxychloroquine too. Then we realized it was all hype. It is not unreasonable for individuals to ask for everything to be done for family members. However, the Ivermectin crowd has taken it one step further.

Two individuals in New Mexico have died from Ivermectin poisoning. A family member threatened a doctor with her life for not prescribing it to a loved one. Other individuals are looking to take their family members away from ICU care to give them Ivermectin instead. Others are saying that doctors are not prescribing because they will make more money if patients die. These behaviors are too far fetched to deserve any further comment.