Ten years ago, organic products were limited to certain stores, brands, and quantities. But that was then. According to the Organic Trade Association’s 2011 Survey, U.S. sales of organic food and beverages have grown from $6.1 billion in 2000 to $26.7 billion in 2010. In fact, organic food outpaced the growth of total food sales. Organic non-food sales rose from $439 million in 2003 to $1.9 billion in 2010.

So what exactly is organic? For Aiman Awad from Abu Dhabi, organic products “have very little to no synthetic materials used in their production.”  For Christine Thompson, from Peoria, IL, organic also denotes the “total lack of harmful chemicals not only on the harvested crop, but also within a certain radius of the designated organic crop.”

According to Mayo Health Clinic, Director of Clinical Dietetics, Jennifer K. Nelson, perhaps the most significant difference is conventional farmers’ use of antibiotics and growth hormones to produce a product quickly, and medications injected into the animals. Organic farmers, on the other hand, provide animals with organic feed and allow ample access to the outdoors for exercise and rotational grazing.

For Thompson, this outdoor time is crucial. “When a producer confines animals such as chickens to a tiny cage for life, (they are) not humanely treated nor allowed to live naturally as free range chickens. This, to me, affects the meat, giving the consumer something full of chemicals and hormones that can wreak havoc on our bodies through cancer, obesity, and other adverse effects.”

Organic Valley’s Public Affairs Manager, Jamie Lamonde agrees that “today’s globalized food system is broken with rampant use of toxic chemicals, genetically modified organisms and an unbalanced reliance on a handful of crops.” As a cooperative owned by family farmers, all of Organic Valley’s dairy, juice, eggs, meat, soy, and produce meet or exceed the requirements of the USDA Organic seal. “Organic is our hope for a sustainable food and farming future because it improves soil, protects water, produces foods with higher nutritional value, focuses on humane animal care, and provides a fair return to the farmers,” says Lamonde.


Organic—Is It the Only Path?

An IFANCA halal-certified brand, Saffron Road, produced by American Halal Company, although not certified as organic, uses livestock and poultry that are 100% sustainably farmed, vegetarian fed and harvested on family-owned farms. Their ready-to-eat frozen dinners and simmer sauces are also certified as halal, humanely raised and antibiotic and hormone free.

According to Founder Adnan Durrani, “the key is not necessarily to obtain an organic USDA rubber stamp, especially since smaller family owned farms can’t afford the cost to get official USDA Organic certification—yet some of these farms follow better sustainable practices than some organic certified operators.”  What’s essential, he says, is to understand the difference between mainstream organic factory farming that involve mass quantity, versus sustainable farming that prioritizes quality, mindful hand-slaughtering, and humane animal welfare.

In February 2012, Saffron Road’s new Chicken Tikka Masala was declared a “hit” by Supermarket Guru Phil Lempert (www.SuperMarketGuru.com) on his popular “New Products Hits & Misses” video review show. Lempert, one of America’s leading consumer trend-watchers and analysts, gave the entrée a score of 92 out of 100. Here’s what he had to say: “This product is a HIT! A lot of the food media think that this year is finally the time when halal goes mainstream. Simply put, halal certification guarantees the humane treatment of animals and respect for the land where our foods are grown. This Chicken Tikka is very tender, with just the right amount of Tandoori spices. Certified humane, no antibiotics and 100% vegetarian feed are all attributes that you are going to be hearing a lot more about.”

Healthy lifestyle choices, however, are not limited to food. Tom’s of Maine produces toothpaste, antiperspirant, deodorant, mouth- wash and dental floss without artificial colors, flavors, fragrances or preservatives. While only select products are organic, their entire inventory is IFANCA halal-certified, with the exception of their bar soap and new “Wicked Fresh!” Mouthwash.

Public Affairs Manager, Susan Dewhirst points to their Stewardship Model that calls for “natural, sustainable, and responsible.” They require that ingredients be “high quality, sourced in nature, simple and understandable, free of artificial additives and animal ingredients, subject to limited processing.” Further, they avoid animal-testing and use packaging that is biodegradable, renewable, and recyclable. All the while, Tom’s of Maine strives to make its products sustainable for both the environment and consumer’s wallets. After all, it’s the cost and sustainability of organic products that are the deal-breaker for consumers. Which brings us to our next question — do organic products make economic sense for consumers?


Can We Afford the Organic Route?

Whole Foods is often satirized as ‘Whole PayCheck’. When shopping, you may notice that the only difference between the organic section and conventional produce is the price. However, according to several Medical News Today reports, pesticides found in conventional farming show a link between cancer, decreased male fertility, Parkinson’s disease, fetal abnormalities, and chronic fatigue syndrome in children. According to the National Academy of Science, neurological and behavioral effects may result from low-level exposure to pesticides. Other studies show a connection between non-organic food and coronary heart disease, allergies, and hypersensitivity in children. The USDA notes that 99.5% of farm acres are at risk of exposure to lethal agricultural chemicals. Can we afford not to go the organic route?

To help offset the higher cost of organic products, “I try to buy generic household items like paper towels or kitty litter. I feel like I’m still saving money but offering my family better, more nutritional products when I buy organic,” says Thompson.

“Since stores like Whole Foods are miles away, I grow a few staples such as tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and peppers in my backyard,” says Fatimah Manasrah from Milwaukee, WI. “The taste and texture is superb and definitely worth the effort. Plus, I don’t have to worry about what I’m feeding my kids because I know exactly what is in the food I grow, from the seeds to the harvest I pick.”

“O ye who believe! Forbid not the good things which God hath made lawful for you, and transgress not, God loveth not transgressors. Eat of that which God hath bestowed on you as food lawful and good (halal and Tayyib), and keep your duty to God in Whom ye are believers (Holy Quran 5: 87, 88)

Finally, a significant aspect of our Islamic identity is to worship and please God. One way to fulfill this mission is by taking care of the body we’ve been given (see related story: Fit Muslim—Come Rain or Shine). Tayyib, or pure, when it comes to crops are those grown without harmful additions. Durrani agrees, “We strive to support tayyib farming practices and proper animal welfare of livestock…the standard of care we require as our gold standard in halal may be too high for almost any mainstream organic farm to meet.”


You Get What You Pay For:

  1. Conventional factory farms produce items at a faster rate to make profits quicker, focusing on quantity, not premium quality.
  2. Conventional farmers receive federal subsidies to cover costs, organic farmers do not.
  3. Tax Payers, not companies, pay for environmental cleanups needed after using conventional pesticides and fertilizers.
  4. Unlike conventional factory farming where pesticides and herbicides are used, organic farming is much more labor and management intensive, thus reflecting the true cost of growing food.
  5. Durrani mentions a further expense: “Unlike some food brands, we make sure every claim is backed up by well-known and established third party certifiers who have no affiliation whatsoever with any of our directors, employees, or shareholders.”  Although this is an added cost, Durrani sees the value for Saffron Road in ethically building trust by giving consumers “comfort, validation, and honest transparency.”


Limited Budget? Buy Smart.

These foods tend to have higher levels of pesticides/chemicals in conventionally grown produce:

  • bell peppers
  • spinach
  • green beans
  • nectarines
  • grapes
  • peaches
  • celery
  • apples
  • apricots
  • strawberries

About the Writer: Asma Jarad has an MA in English from National University. She is a freelance writer living in the Chicago area with her husband and children.

Contributing Researcher: Mariam Majeed, formerly a food scientist at IFANCA, is currently a homemaker and mother.