Organic food is a popular choice for consumers who want to avoid the chemicals and additives found in many conventional foods. But what does “organic” really mean?
If you’ve ever shopped for food, you’ve probably seen the term “organic” used to describe a variety of products. But what does “organic” mean? According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), organic products must be made without synthetic pesticides, sewage sludge, or ionizing radiation.
They must also be produced without genetic engineering. The USDA has strict guidelines for how food sold in the U.S. can be labeled organic, and products carrying the USDA Organic label must meet these requirements.
The definition of organic changes from one place to the next, but it’s generally applied to products made without synthetic ingredients and with minimal processing. Organic farming also bans the use of pesticides, antibiotics, fertilizers, irradiation and genetic modification, although it’s not a legal requirement to be labeled as such.
Or, organic farming can also be viewed as an alternative way of growing food and raising livestock that stresses the importance of biodiversity, biological cycles, and naturally occurring organisms.
About Organic Labeling
When you purchase food in a grocery store, you can choose between products labeled organic and those that are not. But what exactly is organic labeling?
The first thing you need to know is that organic labeling is not applicable to all foods.
Only certain types of items are eligible, including fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs, and meats. That’s because the federal government has specific regulations that govern what food products can be labeled organic.
Going “organic” has been a popular trend in the last decade. But what does it mean to go organic? At first, the term was used only to describe food. But lately, you may have noticed other products using the same label.
Unfortunately, there’s no official or legal definition of “organic” in the U.S. The Department of Agriculture (USDA) is in charge of certifying products as organic. The USDA says that for a product to be labeled as organic, it must be free of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, and growth hormones.
The USDA also says that a product labeled organic must contain at least 95% organic ingredients.
If you see the USDA Organic seal on a product, you can be confident that the product is made with at least 95% certified organic ingredients. This seal is your guarantee that the food is free of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, irradiation and genetically engineered ingredients, additives and preservatives.
Specific Organic Ingredient Listings
Companies that produce organic food products are required to list all the ingredients on the label of their product. The list of ingredients is often confusing to read and understand.
The list of ingredients is the first line of information on the package. This information is meant to be the consumer’s guide to what is in the product.
Since 2005, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has required that any product they label as “organic” be made without genetically modified organisms (GMOs), irradiation, sewage sludge, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, growth hormones (with the exception of organically raised animals), or other synthetic ingredients.
The National Organic Standards Board also bans synthetic preservatives, coloring, and flavoring. The National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, which is maintained by the USDA, is the final authority on which ingredients are allowed for organic producers.
Buying organic produce
Buying organic produce can get expensive, but it doesn’t have to. Since organic produce is grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, it’s healthier for you and the environment. To save money, buy it when it’s in season.
Many fruits and vegetables are grown only in certain climates, so they’re extra expensive when they’re out of season and need to be shipped in from elsewhere.
The organic food industry has been growing steadily over the last few years, and now accounts for about 4% of all food sales in most countries.
While the industry has been subject to criticism from environmental groups, the fact remains that buying organic produce has a positive impact on the world, both during the growing process and after you’ve purchased and eaten the food.
While buying organic may be a good way to reduce your pesticide intake, you should keep in mind that the term “organic” on packaging is not regulated in the same way as the term “organic” when used for food products.
For example, an organic-labeled product can contain up to 5 percent of ingredients not listed in the ingredients section. (For instance, to use the organic label on a package of yogurt, it’s enough to have the milk as the main ingredient, plus the word “organic” somewhere on the package with an explanation of what it means. If the package has a picture of a cow, a field of green grass, and the sun, but the main ingredient is corn syrup, the yogurt is not organic.)
Organic Fruits and Vegetables
For the first time in the history of the world, we’re no longer hunter-gatherers. We grow our own food. This transformation has had a profound effect on the environment. In the United States, annual sales of organic fruits and vegetables have increased by a factor of 10 since 1990. Today, more than 20 percent of all the fruits and vegetables sold in the United States are organic.
Eating right is important to keep your body healthy, but knowing the difference between organic fruits and vegetables vs. their conventional-grown counterparts is just as important, since conventional produce is sprayed with pesticides and chemical fertilizers that can make you sick.
When you buy organic produce, you not only help the environment, but you also help your family’s health. Studies have shown that the residue on conventional produce is absorbed into the body through the digestive system.
In fact, many conventional fruits and veggies contain more residue than organic produce. This may seem surprising, since we’ve been hearing for years that pesticides are dangerous to our health. But, not all pesticides are created equal.
When you are choosing foods that are organic, or that are advertised as being “natural” or “all-natural,” you are getting food that will be healthier for you and the environment. People who want to eat healthier may choose organic foods, so they can avoid foods that have been grown or raised with chemicals that could be harmful.