I am writing this letter as a follow
up to our most recent house meeting where we discussed the possibility of
adding organically grown food products to our grocery list, particularly
organic peanut butter. Some people have expressed concern about the possibility
of organic peanut butter having higher levels of carcinogenic fungal toxins
than traditional peanut butter. Since we all are directly affected by the food
we decide to purchase for the house, I decided to take a deeper look into some
of the concerns expressed at the meeting. As an avid peanut butter lover
myself, I especially wanted to provide more insight into the benefits and
drawbacks of switching to an organic brand.
To begin, it is important to first understand
what makes organic peanut butter different from traditional peanut butter. In
order for any food product to be classified as organic, the product must be made
of ingredients that were grown without the use of “synthetic chemical pesticides”
(USDAO, 2002). Products labeled with “Organic” must be made of at least 95%
organic certified ingredients, while products labeled with “100% Organic” means
that all of the “ingredients, processing aids and food additives” in the
product are organic (USDAO, 2002). It should be noted that peanuts have a
potential susceptibility to pesticides because of the nature of their shells. Peanuts
have porous shells, which means they are capable of letting outside material or
substances leach inside and contaminate the nuts themselves (Stakal, 2011).
This is important to keep in mind when comparing organic and non-organic peanut
butter because the pesticides used to grow the non-organic peanuts have the
possibility of being present in the final peanut butter product (Stakal, 2011).
potential health benefits and environmental impacts of organic foods are
important factors to consider during this house decision-making process.
According to Aubrey and Charles (2012), the results of a study published in the Annals
of Internal Medicine show “scant evidence of health benefits from organic
foods.” This study consisted of analyzing over 200 research studies based on
the human consumption of organic vs. non-organic foods and the results show
that more evidence is needed for there to be a substantial claim that organic
foods provide healthier lives (Aubrey and Charles, 2012). Since organic foods
utilize fewer pesticides, they also provide “less fertilizer runoff into
neighboring streams” and environmental contamination (Aubrey and Charles,
2012). Organic farming may also bring about more “diverse insect life” or
“increase the fertility of farmers fields” (Aubrey and Charles, 2012).
However, these methods often cost more money than non-organic farming techniques,
which is part of the reason why organic food products often cost more than
non-organic ones (Aubrey and Charles, 2012). If we do decide to switch to
organic peanut butter, it will be necessary to evaluate the price of the new
product and how it fits into our current house budget.
The fungal toxins of concern that were
mentioned at our house meeting are aflatoxins, which are a type of mycotoxin
(Bennett, 2003). Bennett (2003) states that mycotoxins are “secondary
metabolites produced by microfungi that are capable of causing disease.”
Aflatoxins are a type of carcinogenic mycotoxins that are produced by Aspergillus flavus fungi which grow on
foods such as corn and peanuts (EHSO, 2005). The ideal conditions for this fungus are warm
and wet weather and it can grow on peanuts before they are picked and during
processing (EHSO, 2005). When consumed in large amounts, aflatoxins specifically
target the liver and cause vomiting, abdominal pain and in extreme cases, coma
or death (Kamle, et al., 2017).
All peanut butter that is produced here
in the U.S., whether it is organic or not, is tested for aflatoxins (Gunnars,
2017). The USDA sets levels for the number of aflatoxins that are safely able
to be in manufactured food and is responsible for monitoring peanut butter companies
to ensure that their products do not exceed these set levels (Gunnars, 2017). According
to the FDA (2005), the set level for aflatoxins in peanut products is less than
20 mcgs/kg and products found to excel this limit will face legal action.
The main concern from our house meeting
was that organic peanut butter specifically contains higher levels of aflatoxins
than traditional peanut butter. Despite these concerns, it has been found that
organic food products are not greater sources of aflatoxins (Cummins, 2004). In
fact, Cummins (2004) states “organic foods tend to be less contaminated, and
may provide protection from the toxins.”
Though the final decision to switch to
organic peanut butter is up to a housing agreement, this letter is intended to
helped answer some of the questions that were asked during our meeting. I hope that
reading this letter has help you better understand the main differences between
organic and non-organic peanut butter. Thank you for your time.