The term “organic” is officially defined and controlled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This means that in order to carry the organic label on the packaging, foods must meet certain standards.
Organic produce must be grown without the use of chemicals or pesticides. Farmers must use natural means to control insects and weeds. Only natural fertilizers, such as compost, are used. After harvesting, organic produce cannot be treated with preservatives, such as wax. The organic term also excludes foods that have been altered by scientists, such as seedless watermelon.
The goals of organic farming are to reduce the negative impact on the environment and to increase sustainability. Sustainability means that the farming practices are designed to take care of the land to make sure it is productive and useful for a long time.
Organic meat and animal products must come from livestock raised in a natural environment. This means the farmers give the animals organic feed, clean housing and access to the outdoors. The animals are not treated with the growth hormones or antibiotics often used in non-organic livestock. Farm practices are generally environmentally friendly.
The USDA allows several different organic labels. You may come across the following:
Organic products are often presented as a healthier, greener option. But are they really different?
As you consider whether organic foods are right for you and your family, remember that no food type or fad is a magic bullet for your health. The organic label means natural farming and processing practices, and is not a guarantee of nutritional content or value.
Whatever you buy, be sure to check nutrition information on the packaging. Continue to follow safe food handling procedures, including rinsing produce and keeping raw meat separate from other foods before cooking. Understanding the facts about organic and non-organic products can help you make informed, healthy decisions.
This content was developed with general underwriting support from Nature Made®.
KidsHealth. Organic and Other Environmentally Friendly Foods. Accessed August 11, 2011
Helpguide.org. Organic Foods: Understanding Organic Food Labels, Benefits, and Claims. Accessed August 11, 2011
Mayo Clinic. Organic Foods: Are They Safer? More Nutritious?. Accessed August 11, 2011
United States Department of Agriculture. Going Organic. Accessed August 11, 2011
United States Department of Agriculture. Organic Labeling and Marketing Information. Accessed August 11, 2011
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff