Buzzword: Organic

by Angela on December 25, 2010

As I was walking through the grocery store the other day, I noticed food labels with the words “made with natural ingredients”, “all natural”, “100% organic”, and just “organic”, to name a few.  It made me realize that although I see and hear these phrases all the time, I don’t really know what they mean.  And how can I make good, conscientious food choices if I don’t know what I’m reading on the label?

One symbol that seemed to be unwavering was the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Organic seal.

So, I thought, what better place to do some research on the meaning of these terms but the official USDA website ?  I know this is only one resource but it gave me, and now hopefully you, a great start on making more educated food purchases.  Apparently, natural and organic foods are not the same, yet most people use these terms interchangeably all the time.

“Natural” applies just to the content of the food itself whereas “organic” also applies to the way it was grown, handled and processed.

Natural foods are minimally processed and free of preservatives, artificial ingredients, antibiotics and hydrogenated oils, which are chemically-altered oils.

Organic foods must also be produced without antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, irradiation (exposure to radiation), or bioengineering (gene mixing).

Organic farmers are required to abide by certain soil and water conservation methods so organic foods are environmentally friendly as well.

Natural foods must follow the same general regulations and health codes that apply to all foods in the United States.

Organic foods must also follow a separate organic certification program developed by the USDA.

Within the organic umbrella are several tiers of organic food labeling, which are also defined by the USDA:

100% Organic means exactly what it sounds like, and use of the USDA Organic seal is optional.

Organic means that the food is made with 95% or more of organic ingredients and use of the USDA Organic seal is optional.

Made with Organic Ingredients means at least 70% of the ingredients are organic and the seal cannot be used.

If less than 70% of the ingredients are organic, the term “organic” can only be used in the list of ingredients and the seal cannot be used.

There was also a very informative chart on the USDA website that I’d like to share with you regarding conventional vs. organic farming:

Conventional Farming Organic Farming
Apply chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth Apply natural fertilizers, such as manure or compost, to feed soil and plants
Spray insecticides to reduce pests and disease Use beneficial insects and birds, mating disruption or traps to reduce pests and disease
Use chemical herbicides to manage weeds Rotate crops, till, hand weed or mulch to manage weeds
Give animals antibiotics, growth hormones and medications to prevent disease and spur growth Give animals organic feed and allow them access to the outdoors.  Use preventative measures, such as rotational grazing, a balanced diet and cleaning housing, to help minimize disease

I think the next time I’m at the grocery store, I am going to feel so much more empowered with just this little bit of knowledge.  I don’t plan on buying everything organic just yet.  For one, we’re on a budget, but also this is a major lifestyle change and I’d like to research more and make changes little by little so I don’t feel so overwhelmed.  Also, the USDA makes no claim about whether or not organically produced foods are safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced foods.  But I personally would like to educate myself further and make my own decision on which is best for me and my family.  And so begins the Everyday Road to Healthy!

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