Food prices are up seven percent over last year. And if you want to feed your family healthier food, you may be considering organic.  But prices can be 25-50 percent higher.  Is it worth it?  Organic food is that which is free of pesticides, antibiotics, or hormones.  This month on WBTV, we investigated part of that which makes food organic.

On Sammy Koenigsberg’s Union County organic farm, the turkeys lived a good life.  They got exercise, sunshine, fresh air, and they ate green stuff.  Sammy says, “all the things we know are good for health.”  (We named ours “fowl-er” and it was delicious) And locally grown, too – which Sammy believes means better for you, better for the planet. He says, “92 percent of all our vegetables grow in the Salinas Valley in California, they’re shipped 1,500 miles and by the time we eat them, by the time stuff gets to the grocery store, it’s five days to three weeks old on average.”

Old, zapped of its flavor, and if it’s green beans for example – 60% of its nutritional value is gone.  On Sammy’s farm, whether it’s green beans, or eggs, or pork – locally grown and organic means fresher, tastier, and free of pesticides and hormones.  Sammy says, “yes, we don’t need guys in white lab coats to tell us if something’s nutritious.

But those guys can tell us about the pesticides.  We know high-level exposure can cause serious health problems and even death.  We bought both organic and regular lettuce at four local stores.  Three organic, three conventionally-grown.  EMSL labs tested all of our samples for more than 200 different pesticides.

Sammy says, “There’s six billion living creatures in a pinch of soil as big as your finger, and all those things have a purpose we don’t necessarily understand.”  We do understand that high levels of pesticides is harmful.  But if you’re spending more and buying organic to avoid these harmful chemicals, our testing found you may be wasting your money.  It found no detectable traces of pesticides, in any of the lettuce, organic or otherwise.

“There’s a lot of stuff behind there that people wouldn’t want to eat.”  Sammy believes we’d have more confidence in our food supply if we knew our local farmer.  “Our only contact with food now is the aisles of plenty in the grocery store.”

We tested for about 200 pesticides.  It’s good news that especially the most dangerous ones were not detected.  But one expert told me there are hundreds more in use that could have slipped through the cracks.  And then there’s this:  The government has been testing for pesticides in our food since 1990 and the ALAR scare in apples.  But this fall, the USDA abruptly halted that testing.  The Bush Administration said the $8 million a year program cost too much.