The moment the Bakkens found out they were having their second child they made an even more concerted effort to eat organically.

Christopher and Kerry Bakken of Meadville had fed their first child, Sophia, 3, pretty much nothing but organic baby food or organic produce from local farmers. And they still keep her on a steady organic diet and plan to do the same with their next child.

The Bakkens are among the increasing number of parents who buy organic to keep their family’s diets free of food grown with pesticides, hormones, antibiotics or genetic engineering.

“Children are much more susceptible to pesticide residue,” said Christopher about why he feeds his family organic food from vegetables to chicken.

He said although the chemical companies like Monsanto have done a good job convincing American consumers that these chemicals in their food is perfectly safe, “I don’t totally believe it.”

He certainly isn’t alone.

Sales of organic baby food have jumped nearly 18 percent since last year — double the overall growth of organic food sales, according to the marketing information company ACNielsen.

As demand has risen, organic food for children has been popping up outside natural food stores.

For example, Earth’s Best baby food, a mainstay in Whole Foods and Wild Oats markets, just reached a national distribution deal with Toys R Us and Babies R Us. Gerber is selling organic baby food under its Tender Harvest label. Stonyfield Farm’s YoBaby yogurt can be found in supermarkets across the country.

The concern about children is that they are more vulnerable to toxins in their diets, said Alan Greene, a pediatrician in northern California. As children grow rapidly, their brains and organs are forming and they eat more for their size than do grown-ups, Greene said.

“Pound for pound, they get higher concentrations of pesticides than adults do,” said Greene, who promotes organic food in his books and on his Web site, www.drgreene.com.

New government-funded research adds to the concern. A study of children whose diets were changed from regular to organic found their pesticide levels plunged almost immediately. The amount of pesticide detected in the children remained imperceptible until their diets were switched back to conventional food.

“We didn’t expect that to drop in such dramatic fashion,” said Emory University’s Chensheng Lu, who led the Environmental Protection Agency-funded research. Lu’s findings will be published in February in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Scientists are still trying to figure out how pesticides affect children, Lu said, but he notes that it took years to prove the health hazards of lead.

Three Meadville stores report it isn’t just parents worried about the effects of pesticides that have organic sales growing. These stores are seeing plenty of childless adults interested in organics’ health benefits.

It has picked up over the last year,” said Giant Eagle Store Manager Brian Jay about the organic line of food his store has been selling for two years.

Sherry Joliet, owner of Food for a Healthy Life, which opened four months ago on Baldwin Street Extension, said she has some parents buy organic snacks like fruit roll-ups for their children, but many of her products aren’t geared specifically for children.

“Parents today are becoming more knowledgeable about eating organic. ... I don’t think the average parent realizes the gift they’re giving if they start their kids with organic food,” she said.

Fred Corp, owner of Nature’s Way on Park Avenue, said he hasn’t seen a specific trend in his customers buying organic food for their children. He said he sells more gluten-free food to parents for children with wheat allergens.

Joliet and Corp also said parents seem to gravitate to organic produce so they can make their own baby food.

“Maybe that has the reputation of being difficult, but it doesn’t have to be, and once you get into the habit of doing something regularly, it gets to be easier,” said Jody Villecco, a nutritionist for Whole Foods.

In a traveling lecture series for Whole Foods and Mothering magazine, Villecco demonstrates by shaving a peeled banana with a knife to make mush — “There, we just made baby food,” she said. She recommends people make baby food in big batches and freeze it in ice cube trays.



Meadville Tribune reporter Eric Reinagel and Associated Press writer Libby Quaid contributed to this story. Reinagel can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at ereinagel@meadvilletribune.com

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