Organic Foods: What You Need to Know

Organic Foods: What You Need to Know

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines and controls the term “organic.” In order to carry the organic label, foods must meet certain standards. Farmers, companies, and food products have to be inspected and certified. 

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 allowed. After harvesting, farmers cannot treat food with preservatives, such as wax. Organic produce also excludes any foods that have been altered by scientists.

Organic farming has two main goals. The first is to reduce the negative impact on the environment. The second is to increase sustainability. This means that farming practices take care of the land to make sure it is useful for a long time.

Organic meat and animal products must come from livestock raised in a natural habitat. Farmers must give them organic feed, clean housing, and access to the outdoors. Farmers cannot use growth hormones or antibiotics. These products often are given to non-organic livestock.

Path to improved health

Organic products can be a healthier, greener option. Remember, no food type or fad is a magic bullet for your health. You have to consider if organic foods are right for you and your family.

The USDA organic label represents natural farming and processing practices. It is not a guarantee of nutritional content or value. When you buy, be sure to check nutrition information on the packaging. Continue to follow safe food-handling procedures. Rinse your produce and keep raw meat separate from other foods before you cook it.

It is good to know the facts about organic and non-organic products. This can help you make informed, healthy decisions.

  • Nutrition. Organic foods have various nutritional values. Some are more nutritious than their non-organic versions. Others have the same value. For example, organic fruits and vegetables may have more minerals. This is due to how organic produce is farmed. In contrast, organic snack foods, such as cookies or ice cream, do not contain extra nutrition.
  • Artificial ingredients. This is the main difference between organic and non-organic foods. Growth hormones, synthetic ingredients, and pesticides are common in the food industry. They could cause long-term health effects. Doctors don’t know for sure yet. It is thought that eating organic foods may reduce your risk of future health problems.
  • Flavor. Organic foods do not have preservatives. Local growers purchase them, so they tend to be fresher. They also don’t have chemicals and artificial flavors, so they have a more natural taste. The organic label doesn’t guarantee better flavor or freshness, but you might find they taste better. Try organic produce and dairy products to see if you prefer their flavor.
  • Environment. Organic farming is meant to be good for the environment. It helps reduce pollution, save water and resources, and decrease soil erosion. Organic farmers do not use pesticides that can harm animals and plants. They also provide livestock with more humane living conditions. Organic foods often are sold at local stores. This reduces the pollution of shipping across the country.
  • Lifespan. Organic products usually don’t last as long as non-organic foods. This is because they don’t contain preservatives. Foods, especially produce, can go bad quicker.
  • Cost. You may have noticed that organic foods cost more than non-organic foods. This is due to the higher cost of organic farming, as well as limited supplies. As more people use organic products, prices are likely to decrease. This already is happening in areas of the country where people purchase organic products more often.

Things to consider

The USDA has several different organic labels. You may come across the following:

  • 100% organic means it was produced and processed using approved methods and organic ingredients. This label often is seen on single-ingredient items, like fruits or eggs.
  • Organic products contain at least 90% organic ingredients.
  • Made from organic products contain at least 75% organic ingredients.

Other common labels are natural, sustainable, and grass-fed. The USDA does not officially define or control these terms. There is no guarantee that products with these labels follow the same standards.

Resources

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Organic Labeling