Organic milk, cheese, yogurt and butter - all originate from cows who graze on organic pastures, who will not have been routinely given antibiotics, and whose welfare is high on the list of priorities for the farmer. The benefit for you is that it is less likely to contain unwanted pesticide or antibiotic residues. The US government found traces of lindane - one of the most dangerous substances in the world and which has been linked with breast cancer among many diseases in over 40 per cent of non-organic milk, cheese and butter samples in 1996. Lindane is commonly sprayed on sugar beet, a key part of conventional cattle feed.
By choosing organic dairy produce you will also be assured that the genetically modified hormone, BST or rBGH, has not been used on the dairy herd. The hormone is injected into one-third of American dairy cows to increase milk production, but it causes a five-fold increase in a protein that has been linked with breast cancer.
The cocoa plant is one of the most heavily sprayed crops in the world and intensive cocoa production is the cause of much soil erosion and deforestation in tropical countries. By going organic, you will be supporting a safer working environment for plantation workers and getting a healthier product, since organic chocolate contains up to twice the amount of cocoa solids as conventional brands, and no hydrogenated fats, refined white sugar or artificial flavourings.
A child's immune system does not fully develop until about the age of 5, so bombarding them with pesticide-drenched food does not give children the best start in life. They are also far more likely to be eating food that contains residues - milk, fruit and vegetables - and are thus five times more likely to be consuming residues than an adult. And most governments' safety limits on pesticide residues are based on levels considered safe for adults.
Meat and fish
It is better for the animals as well as you if you opt for organic meat. Organic livestock are kept in more humane conditions, fed GM-free feed and not dosed with antibiotics.
Organic fish, too, are better cared for. Farmed fish such as trout and salmon are not kept in overcrowded tanks and not fed artificial colourings to turn their flesh pink; no routine medication is allowed and the fish are killed as humanely as possible. Organic standards also do not allow genetically modified fish - GM salmon are being trialled in conventional fisheries.
The environmental hazards of conventional fish farming, such as pollution of surrounding waters, are also avoided. Such pollution is mainly due to the use of chemical pesticides to control infestations such as sea lice, and other chemicals used to clean cages and prevent weed build-up. Fish waste and excess feed can also build up beneath cages, reducing oxygen levels in water and leading to dangerous algae blooms. Intensively farmed fish are also fed fish meal in pellets, often derived from threatened species of fish - these pellets are now being blamed for contaminating salmon with toxic chemicals, since they concentrate the trace amounts present in the fish from polluted oceans.
Many species of ocean fish are clearly endangered because of overfishing and the toxic effects of pesticides and other pollutants that run into the sea or are dumped there deliberately.
Processed foods made with soya and maize (corn)
In reality this is most processed foods since soya and maize (corn) are on the ingredients list of up to 90 per cent of manufactured foods. They are not always in forms you would immediately recognize either; for example, they are commonly used in anti-caking agents, colourings, emulsifiers, flavourings and food supplements.
The main reason you should opt for organic is the GM issue. Both GM soya and maize have been enthusiastically planted by American farmers and they meet much of the Western world's demand. Limited labeling is in place in some countries, so if you are lucky you should be able to tell whether GM ingredients feature in your food. However, the surest way to avoid them, and the health and environmental risks that may come with them is to eat organic.
You will also avoid many processing aids altogether, since organic standards restrict the number that can be used and requires as much transparency as possible on labeling with regard to ingredients and processing methods.
Tea and coffee
Tea and coffee plantations have suffered a similar fate to cocoa plantations. Drenched in pesticides, they have become larger and larger, with an increase in the resulting deforestation and soil erosion. But it is not just conventional tea that has environmental consequences; herbal teas may also have a poor environmental record, since herbs are commonly grown in glasshouses, in soil-free substrates, with heavy use of chemicals before and after harvest.
Wine and beer
You may not realize how far from its traditional image modern winemaking has come. Once again, the chemicals are out in force in most vineyards and there is little by way of other vegetation left for the local wildlife. Chemicals also feature in the winemaking process, with high levels of sulphur often finding their way into the finished product - these have been linked with allergies and headaches. Here, too, the geneticists are busy - genetically modified vines are on their way.
Organic wines are, needless to say, produced in an entirely more environmentally-friendly manner, with grasses and wildflowers cropping up beneath the vines. Lower levels of sulphur are specified in organic standards and chemicals are less likely in all stages of winemaking.
It is worth seeking out organic beers as well - conventional beers are produced using hops that are likely to have been sprayed with over 15 different pesticides around 12 times a year.