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The Organic Revolution Reaches to Alaska

Shoppers often reach for organic food -- even if it costs more -- to avoid pesticide residues on fruit and vegetables, said Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association.

Because the amount of chemicals that linger in food varies, that reach makes more sense for some foods than others, said Consumer Reports magazine earlier this year after reviewing U.S. Department of Agriculture tests. Food labeled as organic, according to federal rules that took effect in 2002, is not genetically modified and has been grown using soil conservation techniques on land that has been free of prohibited pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers for at least three years. Organic meat and dairy is from animals that have been given no growth hormones or antibiotics, have eaten organic feed and aren't confined indoors. Anyone misusing the label faces a $10,000 fine.

Besides the eater's health, other reasons to buy organic include fewer synthetic herbicides and pesticides washing into lakes and streams, and reducing health risks to farm workers.

Long-time organic aficionados complain the national standards are lower than those set by earlier certifying organizations such as Oregon Tilth. Still, it's better than non-organic, said Sarah Bean of Palmer farm Arctic Organics, who shops at several Anchorage stores and orders in bulk to maximize the amount she buys organic. "I'm casting a vote," Bean said. Given that organic food often costs more, shoppers may want to prioritize their grocery lists, shelling out more only for higher-residue foods. Here's the magazine's "buy organic" list: apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, imported grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, raspberries, spinach and strawberries. Also recommended: meat, dairy and eggs, to avoid hormones and antibiotics given to non-organically raised animals, and the risk of mad cow disease from conventional feed that can contain protein from sick cows. Baby food is on the list too. As it is often concentrated, so are any pesticide residues, and young children are more vulnerable to small amounts of toxins. These foods had low levels of residues, the magazine reported: asparagus, avocados, bananas, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet corn, kiwis, mangos, onions, papayas, pineapples and peas, and processed food such as breads and pastas; Cummins added watermelon to the list. Sarana Schell can be reached at sschell@adn.com or 257-4466