Organic Produce: What It Means and How to Find It

Does the growth regulator Alar make apples unsafe to eat? Do a multitude of pesticides on other fruits and vegetables increase your risk of cancer?

With each new report about dietary health hazards comes added anxiety for shoppers. To cope, some have switched to “organic” food--and they’re going to great lengths to get it.

A case in point: Betty Line of Rancho Cucamonga who, after calling several supermarkets in her area, drove 45 minutes to Glendale Saturday afternoon to make certain her 2-year-old son Thomas would eat organic produce that night.

But once in the market, consumers often face a sea of signs describing fresh fruits and vegetables. Equal in the eyes of Califoria law: organically grown, organic, naturally grown, wild, ecologically grown and biologically grown.

All mean “no synthetically compounded materials have been used in the growing or processing of the product,” said Frank Nava of the food and drug branch of the state Department of Health Services, the agency responsible for enforcement of state Health and Safety Codes.


Under that law, growers who plan to market their crops as “organic” may not use synthetically compounded fertilizers, pesticides or growth regulators from 12 months prior to planting through processing.

Produce that carries the words California Certified Organic Farmers or CCOF certified has the blessing of the California Certified Organic Farmers, a Santa Cruz-based organization of 450 growers, and “has been tracked from planting through processing to insure that it’s chemical-free,” said spokesman Phil McGee.

Growers applying for membership must wait at least 12 months, he said, while information is collected to make certain state guidelines have been followed. In addition, organic growers must improve the soil and fulfill several other requirements.

Some labels don’t attest to purity, Nava added. No sprays used doesn’t necessarily mean no pesticides, he said. And California grown means only that.

The term sustainable agriculture does not necessarily mean produce has been raised organically, noted Mark Lipson, a spokesman for CCOF. Rather, sustainable agriculture refers to an approach that attempts to minimize negative effects on the environment and people while maintaining profitability for farmers.

Yet another term, integrated pest management , indicates pesticide use has been reduced but not eliminated.

In a survey of 900 consumers in Marin, San Diego and Sacramento counties, UC Davis agricultural economist Desmond Davis found 22% regularly look for organic foods, up from 3% in the early ‘70s, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report.

Fighting Baldness

When topical minoxidil was approved last year for the treatment of baldness, it was good news for some of the 50 million Americans with thinning hair.

But physicians and others who have been studying and prescribing minoxidil say it doesn’t work for some users and may pose risks for others with cardiovascular problems. Regular check-ups, they add, are a good idea for all minoxidil users.

Ideal candidates for topical use of the drug are men younger than 50 who are just beginning to lose their hair, said Dr. Richard Odom, a UC San Francisco clinical professor of dermatology who has prescribed the drug for four years.

Receding hairlines don’t seem to respond as well as crown baldness, said Dr. H. Irving Katz, a University of Minnesota clinical professor of dermatology. And twice-daily applications appear to be a lifetime commitment: Those who discontinued minoxidil use noticed further hair loss within two or three months, said Katz, who recently published a review of minoxidil in the journal Cutis.

Clinical trials sponsored by the drug’s manufacturer, Upjohn Co. of Kalamazoo, Mich., found 39% of men had moderate or dense hair growth with its use.

How minoxidil--originally an oral treatment for high blood pressure--works to prevent hair loss still isn’t understood, said Upjohn spokeswoman Kaye Bennett.

Combining minoxidil with Retin-A, an acne medication also used to treat wrinkles, appears to improve results, said Dr. Jack Jaffe, medical director of Physicians Hair Center, one of two such clinics in the Boston area. “Both act on the hair follicles directly,” he said.

The Fitness Profile

Physically fit people are likely to be energetic, optimistic, perfectionistic and competitive, a new study of physical fitness and personality suggests.

But the notion people who exercise vigorously do so to compensate for psychological deficiencies wasn’t borne out by the research of Joyce Hogan, associate professor of psychology at the University of Tulsa.

Hogan, who published her findings in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, administered physical fitness and personality tests to two groups of male exercisers: 97 from the Navy, ages 18 to 33, and 35 applicants for law enforcement jobs, 20 to 40. Both groups were above average in terms of physical fitness and psychological health, she found. Their personality characteristics are “the conceptual opposite of the disease-prone personality,” she said, which is marked by anxiety, hostility and depression.

Hogan believes her study dispels the notion that “people in very good physical condition are driven by their own neuroses, such as lack of self-confidence. My research shows there’s no relationship between traditional psychopathology and level of fitness.”

Based on the results, Hogan speculates that “personality may moderate the link between fitness and physical health.”

“What she’s describing is the Type A personality,” said Steve Farrell, an exercise physiologist at the Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas. “Those people are more likely to adhere to their exercise program. But that doesn’t mean (the more easygoing) Type Bs won’t adhere, too,” he said.