As a California fresh table grape grower for over 70 years, we at Jasmine Vineyards have seen a lot of wonderful trends in the food industry: the “foodie” movement, celebrity chefs taking center stage, recipe blogs, nutrition apps, and people of all ages bringing the joys of baking, cooking, and nutrition to their own corner of the internet.
Another trend that’s caught our attention – and also seems to be causing a great deal of confusion – is the organic movement. Whether you’re proudly conventional (like we are!), all organic, or a mix of the two, we can almost all agree that choosing “what to eat” isn’t a decision we take lightly.
That’s why we’d like to share our perspective, and some sound science, on the safety, nutritional value and environmental impact of our conventionally-grown grapes.
One thing we know for sure? Jasmine Vineyards grapes are as nutritious and safe as organic grapes. As for environmental impact, when you learn more about our farming practices, you might just wonder if there’s actually a difference between the Jasmine Vineyards way, and the USDA Organic way.
Let’s dive in.
Q: Are conventional grapes as safe as organic grapes?
Food safety in fresh produce usually refers to microbiological contamination and pesticide residue. Let’s break them down:
According to a number of studies, such as the one published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, “there is no evidence that organic foods may be more susceptible to microbiological contamination than conventional foods.”
Why? Because both organic and conventional produce are regulated by the USDA. The Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) division of the USDA conducts annual audits to ensure that fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled, and stored safely to minimize risks of microbial food safety hazards.
This governmental oversight adds a layer of protection to every piece of fruit and vegetable grown in U.S. soil. It’s also why microbial outbreaks (such as listeria, Salmonella and e.coli) are on the whole, extremely rare in the United States. Even so, some studies caution there is a slightly higher risk of e coli and Salmonella contamination in organic produce, due to pathogens spread through untreated manure.
At Jasmine Vineyards, we take food safety a step further with our own in-house Food Safety Program. This ensures continuous monitoring and improvement of our grapes to meet our highest standards of safety and quality. Our Food Safety Plan is designed to be fully compliant to FDA Food Code, USDA, Primus Labs GAP and GLOBALGAP requirements, following the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) guidelines which are the most globally recognized and accepted food safety standards throughout the produce farming industry.
Whew, that’s a lot of safety precautions for conventional grapes!
Okay, so what about pesticide residue, and the “dirty dozen”?
That brings us to our second food safety topic:
You may be familiar with the “dirty dozen” popularized by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) which ranks pesticide levels in produce. The 2018 “Dirty Dozen” listed conventional grapes as #5. Yikes! But is it true? Are conventional grapes laden with harmful pesticide residues?
While we can’t speak for all conventional grape growers, Jasmine Vineyards’ third-party lab testing continuously finds our grapes are as safe as organic grapes.
Just to share a bit of our own scientific reporting, here is a 2018 lab report showing non-detectable traces of residue in our Sweet Globe variety:
We should also mention there are critics of those “dirty dozen” claims, including researcher Steven Savage. He questions the validity of those reports, showing the data is grossly misinterpreted, and concludes the USDA and EPA acknowledge no real risk.
It’s easy to see how data without sound scientific interpretation can lead to a lot of confusion!
Do organic growers use pesticides?
Avoiding pesticides is by far, the biggest reason consumers choose organic over conventional. However, you may be surprised to know that pesticide use is approved – and prevalent – in organic farming practices. Not all organic farms use pesticides, of course, but not all conventional growers use pesticides either. Again, this illustrates why the “conventional vs. organic” discussion is more complex than we’re led to believe!
By the way, we’re absolutely not against organic, and as you’ll soon see, our farming practices are very much aligned with organic farming practices and values.
Q: Are conventional grapes as nutritious as organic grapes?
A: Yes, again! A number of published studies show no significant difference in nutritional content between organic and conventional produce.
The Annals of Internal Medicine concluded that “the published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods.”
While the USDA Organic “seal of approval” may seem to suggest the produce you are buying is more nutritious than its conventional counterparts, you may be surprised to know that their programs do not address nutrition (or food safety, for that matter).
We’re not exactly sure who is monitoring nutrients in organic produce, but you can rest assured that Jasmine Vineyards grapes are as equally nutritious as organic grapes!
Q: Do conventional grapes cause more harm to the environment than organic grapes?
A. No. In fact, some scientists argue that organic farming draws on more of our earth’s natural resources due to significantly lower production yields.
Since farming practices – whether organic or conventional – vary considerably from farm to farm, it is very difficult to measure environmental impact on a broad scale.
We can only speak for our methods and best practices, and we’re happy to share them with you.
At Jasmine Vineyards, we work with the natural grapevine cycle that allows our vines ample time to rest in dormancy. We practice crop rotation to keep the soil healthy and varieties flavorful. We utilize drip-irrigation to maximize efficiency in water consumption. We use natural enemies to mitigate pests, and reduce pesticide use. And finally, our use of electricity is significantly reduced, thanks to our state-of-the-art cold storage technology.
For us, growing grapes with minimal environmental impact is a value we put into practice every day. (We’re starting to sound like organic growers, but it’s just how we’ve done things for over 70 years!)
What about farm worker exposure?
This is an issue we take extremely seriously.
Jasmine Vineyards’ safety procedures and training are the backbone of our operations, and what keeps our employees safe – both on and off the field.
One way we maintain a safe working environment is by extending the time that anyone is allowed to enter the field following pest maintenance. Technically, it is safe to re-enter the field within 2-8 hours of application (we measure the air following strict USDA guidelines to ensure there are no traces), but we extend this to a full 24-hour period for added safety.
The application of pest control substances includes a comprehensive list of risk-reduction procedures that we strictly enforce. Additionally, careful application guidelines help reduce the amount of pest control substance released in the air.
While our scope of safety practices goes way beyond what we can cover in this article, we hope this gives you added peace of mind about employee safety.
Beyond the safety of our employees, Jasmine Vineyards plays an active role in ensuring the best quality of life for our field crew and staff here in the San Joaquin Valley. We offer year-round employment with benefits, and are the first grower to offer profit-sharing to all employees. We have been a strong supporter of the Central Valley Farmworker Foundation (CVFF) since its inception, and we are thrilled to help fuel year-round programs that improve the lives of farm workers and their families. Jasmine Vineyards was even awarded CVFF Partner of the Year in 2018!
In conclusion, we hope you feel better informed about the goodness of our California-grown conventional grapes! Thank you for giving us the opportunity to share a little bit of our story and why we choose to stay true to our roots. As you can see, we care about food safety and quality a great deal.
We invite you to check out instagram.com/jasminevineyards for a regular peek “behind the scenes” at Jasmine Vineyards.
From our family to yours, we hope you enjoy our Jasmine Vineyards grapes for years to come!