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Product Review
 
Organic Baby Food Review

Organic Baby Food Comparison – What It Costs and Why It Matters

It wasn't that long ago that the large baby food companies didn't see a need for an organic baby food line. Now, though, with the organic market projected to reach a value of $30.7 billion by 2007, they are finally beginning to see the light. Heinz and Gerber both offer organically certified lines of baby food, while Earth's Best only sells organic products.

Baby Food Companies and What They Sell

Gerber's (http://www.gerber.com/prodcat?catid=529) Tender Harvest line offers three types of certified organic baby food, 1st Foods, 2nd Foods, and 3rd Foods. 1st Foods offers pureed single-ingredient certified organic fruits and vegetables. 2nd Foods and 3rd Foods both offer more variety and more combinations, with more textures for the older child – i.e. cereal with fruit, which mixes whole grains with fruits, fruits, which offers interesting combinations, vegetable combinations, and dinners.

Heinz' (http://www.heinzbaby.com/english/products/organic_foods.html) certified organic baby food selections are fewer, but still varied. Their jarred baby food ranges from apples to sweet potatoes to vegetable & pasta, while they also offer rice cereal, with and without bananas, and oatmeal cereal.

Whereas Gerber and Heinz are popular companies, Earth's Best may not be known to those new and expectant parents just beginning to seek out suppliers of baby food. Earth's Best (http://www.earthsbest.com/products/index_infant.php) is part of the Hain Celestial Group, which is one of the largest natural and specialty food companies. Their sole focus is producing organically certified food for children. The company also boasts the first organic baby food free of genetically-engineered ingredients, and in addition, all of its jarred food, cereals, and teething biscuits are certified kosher.

Earth's Best, like Gerber, offers organic baby food for babies at different stages, labeled, appropriately, as 1st: Beginner Foods, 2nd: Vegetables, Fruits and Blends, and 3rd: Chunky Blends. 1st: Beginner Foods is finely pureed, single ingredient 2.6 oz jars for ages 4 months and up, 2nd: Vegetables Fruits and Blends is for ages 6 months and up, and offers 29 varieties of flavors and combinations in 4 oz jars, and 3rd: Chunky Blends is for 9 months and up – eight varieties in 6 oz jars. In addition, Earth's Best also offers three whole grain cereals for ages 4 months and up. Their products are sold in many supermarkets and health food stores, as well as online at the site above.

What Parents Think

Many parents make their own organic baby food, saying that the practice allows them quality control, and to some extent reduces the price, since a major ingredient in baby food is water. One recommendation of a 1995 study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) advised parents to "prepare your own baby foods whenever possible," adding that "parents, armed with a food processor, blender, or mashing fork, can easily prepare safe, nutritious, and economical food for their infants at home (http://www.cspinet.org/reports/cheat1.html)." Several parents also commented that their babies liked the flavor of homemade organic baby food better than that of the store bought brands.

However, for those times when convenience is a must and the local grocery store an easy stop, Earth's Best was the overwhelming favorite for organic baby food. Gerber's Tender Harvest line was the second choice of several parents, who stated that they enjoyed its variety, although at least one mother said that her child didn't like the taste or the texture. Heinz, on the other hand, came out a distant third, as not one parent surveyed had ever used it.

Nutritionally speaking, the CSPI study indicated that Earth's Best came out ahead in its study. Both Gerber and Heinz, at least in 1995, were found to "replace real food with water and thickening agents in many of their products for children over six months of age. Such adulterated products are nutritionally inferior to products made with more fruits and vegetables. . . . Many fewer products made by Earth's Best contain starchy fillers."

In summation, although most parents choose Earth's Best organic baby food products for their children, Heinz and Gerber do offer many options that deserve exploring, and their record in 1995 may not accurately describe them today. The CSPI study advises parents to read baby food labels carefully, and that advice is as good now as it was then.

The Benefits of Organic Food. . . and the Dangers of Conventional

Does organic baby food cost more than conventional? The honest answer is yes. . . and no. Retail prices of organic food are typically 20-25% higher than conventional, but even that depends on season and circumstances. If farmers have a bumper crop of organic broccoli, then the price of that item in stores may drop close to that of broccoli grown by conventional methods. An oversupply of organic apples may mean that the costs of some varieties are comparable to those of conventional apples. And so on. There are many factors that affect price, including region, season, perishability, distribution costs, and climatic conditions such as drought or flood. In addition, organic farmers do not receive subsidies from the government for growing certain crops, or not growing others, and that price is also passed on to the consumer.

But organic food only costs more than conventional in the short term. According to a 2000 report produced by the Organic Trade Association (http:www.theorganicreport.com/pages/19_buying_organic.cfm?), "If all the indirect costs of conventional food production – cleanup of polluted water, replacement of eroded soils, costs of health care for farmers and their workers – were factored in to the price of food, organic foods would cost the same, or, more likely, be cheaper."
Food produced by conventional means has hazards and perils, foremost among them the use of pesticides, which many studies indicate have possible negative effects on children (and adults) who ingest the chemicals along with their meal.

The 2005 factsheet from the USDA (U.S. Government Facts: Children's Chemical And Pesticide Exposure Via Food Products, http://www.organicconsumers.org/organic/wic-faq.pdf) states that ". . . children take in more toxic chemicals relative to body weight than adults and have developing organ systems that are more vulnerable and less able to detoxify toxic chemicals." In fact, they go on to say that "standard chemicals are up to ten times more toxic to children than to adults."

This is a statistic to strike fear into any parent's heart, particularly given the growing body of evidence that exposure to pesticides in the early years of life, especially organophosphorus (OP) pesticides "has been linked with a range of conditions such as cancer, decreasing male fertility, foetal abnormalities, chronic fatigue syndrome in children and Parkinson's disease"(UK Soil Association Releases [Fact Sheet on Key Health Benefits of Organic Foods], 2004, http://www.organicconsumers.org/organic/health-benefits.cfm).

We simply don't know the effects of long-term low level exposure to pesticide use, in children or in adults, but the evidence is mounting and the outlook isn't good. OP pesticides are the most commonly used class of insecticides used in U.S. agriculture, and as children and adults ingest food sprayed with various chemicals ("apples can be sprayed up to 16 times with 36 different pesticides" U.S. Government Facts, 2005), parents have every right to be increasingly concerned.

Dr. Chensheng Lu is one of a team of scientists behind a just-published study (http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/docs/2005/8418/abstract.pdf) that demonstrated the "dramatic and immediate protective effect" an organic diet can have on children. The researchers changed the diet of twenty-three elementary children from conventional to organic for fifteen days, then returned their diet to conventional again for the same length of time, using regular urinary analysis to measure the pesticide levels during both periods. Their findings were clear: the pesticide measurements dropped to "non-detect levels immediately after the introduction of organic diets and remained non-detectable until the conventional diets were reintroduced."

This is the first definitive study indicating that pesticide residues can be decisively reduced by a change in diet. Dr. Lu suggests that new and expectant parents should, "if feasible both economically and practically, choose as many organic items as possible for your young children," adding that while he and his family have not moved to a completely organic diet, they have shifted to organic on those items known to carry heavier pesticide residues. These include items such as strawberries, apples, celery, carrots, and the like. For more, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture at www.ams.usda.gov/science/pdp, and the Environmental Working Group at www.ewg.org.

Lu goes on to point out that parents should remember that diet is not the only method of pesticide exposure for children, although it may be the primary one. A chemical-free environment both inside and outside a home is also important, and many studies have shown children's exposure to toxic chemicals, particularly through pesticide use on lawns and gardens, to be a serious health hazard. In addition, Lu warns, parents should check with their schools and daycare centers to assess pesticide use in and around the facilities.

Sometimes it seems that parents are fighting a never-ending battle to keep their children safe from one danger or another, and the struggle can be exhausting. But at least in the area of organic baby food, there is now proof that a parent's efforts can make a significant difference in their child's life. If the effects of pesticides on a person's future health and happiness are even half as severe as scientists are beginning to suspect, then using organic baby food is quite possibly one of the most important decisions you may ever make. And every time parents choose organic baby food rather than conventional, they're investing in a world where children's health counts and food and water are clean. No one could argue against that kind of investment return.


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About the Author:

Jody Norman is a freelance writer interested in environmental issues, particularly those with an organic focus. She lives with her partner of nineteen years and three dogs. She is located at http://www.neonrainbowpress.com/jodynorman/index_fl.html.

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Reproducing This Article:

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  Date: 11/14/05  
       
  Your Name:    Jody Norman  
 
 

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