What are organic foods?
Organic foods are foods that are grown and processed using government regulated farming methods. Organic farming and food use:
- No synthetic fertilizers or pesticides (with exceptions).
- No antibiotics or growth hormones for cattle.
- No genetically modified ingredients.
- No artificial flavors, colors or preservatives.
- No sewage sludge.
- No radiation on their food.
Organic food is not necessarily pesticide free. Natural pesticides can be used in the production of organic food.
Is organic synonymous with “natural”?
No. The term “organic” refers to the way food is processed in addition to the food itself. At this time, no formal definition of the use of “natural” on food labels has been published by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Food manufacturers can use this term when the food is free of synthetic preservatives and artificial sweeteners, additives, colors and flavors. Natural can also mean that the meats are from cattle that have not received growth hormones or antibiotics, and that the products have not been grown with pesticides or other synthetic crop activators.
The only government-regulated use of the term “natural” is in meat and poultry. Meat labeled “natural” may not contain any artificial ingredients or added coloring and be minimally processed. The label should explain the use of the term.
How do you know if a food is organic?
All foods labeled “USDA Organic” must meet the standards set by the USDA. The USDA assesses how food is grown, processed and handled. If a food meets these standards, it can be labeled USDA Organic.
Small food producers who sell less than $ 5,000 a year can also claim to be organic if they meet these standards. However, they do not have to go through the certification process (but cannot label their food as USDA Organic).
What does âcertified organicâ mean?
To be USDA Organic certified, farms and food producers must meet certain standards. Only products containing at least 95% organic ingredients can be certified organic and display the USDA seal. There are different levels of certification of “organic”. These are:
- 100% organic. â100% organicâ can be used to label any product that contains 100% organic ingredients (except salt and water, which are considered natural). Most raw and unprocessed agricultural products are â100% organicâ. Many grains, oats and flours can also be labeled â100% organicâ.
- Biological. âOrganicâ can be used to label any product containing at least 95% organic ingredients (excluding salt and water). Up to 5% of the ingredients can be non-organic agricultural products which are not available as organic products.
- Made with organic. âMade with organicâ can be used to label a product that contains at least 70% organically grown ingredients (excluding salt and water). The non-organic portion should also follow USDA guidelines. These products cannot be labeled USDA Organic.
- Lists of specific ingredients. Specific organic ingredients may be listed in the ingredient declaration for products containing less than 70% organic content. These products cannot be labeled USDA Organic.
Certified organic farms and food processors must be recertified annually. A farm cannot be certified organic until 36 months have passed since banned substances were used on the land.
What do the other labels I see on meats mean?
- Animal welfare approved. This means that the meat came from organically fed animals raised on pastures or rangelands by independent farmers and handled in a humane manner.
- Certified by the American Grassfed Association. This means that the animals have never received antibiotics or hormones. The animals were raised free on pasture, received a 100% forage diet, and were born and raised on American family farms.
- Humane Farm Animal Care Certified. This meant that the animals had unrestricted access to the outdoors, that they weren’t confined, that they weren’t given antibiotics (unless they were sick) or hormones, and that they were handled in a human manner.
What are the processes of organic farming?
For crops, there are several criteria that farms must meet to be certified organic.
- The land must have been free of prohibited substances for at least three years.
- Soil fertility and crop nutrients are managed through tillage and cultivation practices, crop rotations and cover crops.
- Crop pests, weeds, and disease are controlled primarily through management practices that include physical, mechanical and biological controls – not synthetic pesticides. When these practices are not sufficient, a USDA approved biological, botanical, or synthetic substance may be used.
- Organic seeds should be used when available.
- The use of genetic engineering, ionizing radiation and sewage sludge is prohibited.
For livestock, the following criteria must be met:
Slaughter animals must be reared in organic farming from the last third of gestation, or at the latest on the second day of life for poultry.
- Producers must feed livestock with 100% organic agricultural feed products.
- Dairy animals must be driven organically for at least 12 months for the milk or dairy products to be labeled organic.
- Preventive management practices should be used to keep animals healthy. Producers cannot refuse the treatment of sick or injured animals. However, animals treated with a prohibited substance cannot be sold as organic.
- The living conditions of organic meats must be in accordance with their living conditions and their natural behavior. All organic livestock and poultry should have year-round access to the outdoors. Cows must be on pasture for the entire grazing season, not less than 120 days. These animals should also receive at least 30% of their food from pastures.
- Certified organic foods must also meet several handling criteria. These are:
- Only non-agricultural ingredients that are on the USDA’s National List of Permitted and Prohibited Substances are permitted.
- In a multi-ingredient product labeled as âorganic,â all agricultural ingredients must be produced organically, unless the ingredient is not commercially available in organic form.
- Handlers must prevent the mixing of organic products with non-organic products and protect organic products from contact with prohibited substances.
What are the benefits of eating organic foods?
The health benefits of consuming organic foods are increasing. However, it is not certain that the consumption of organic foods will make a difference to your health.
Compared to non-organic foods, organic foods offer:
- Reduced exposure to pesticides and insecticides. This is an important advantage of organic products and cereals.
- Increased exposure to omega-3 fatty acids. Pasture-fed cattle generally have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which provide heart benefits.
- Less exposure to cadmium. Studies have shown significantly lower levels of toxic metallic cadmium in organic grains.
- Increased levels of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other beneficial micronutrients. Organically grown fruits, vegetables and grains contain higher amounts of vitamin C, vitamin E and carotenoids; as well as higher amounts of minerals like calcium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and iron.
- Less bacteria. Less exposure to bacteria in meat.
- Less exposure to antibiotics. Eating organic meat reduces exposure to antibiotics and growth hormones that have been used to treat livestock. These drugs can cause antibiotic resistance and other problems in humans.
Is organic good for the environment?
Organic food and organic farming are built on the principles of preserving soil and water quality and creating little or no pollution. Not using chemicals or sewage as a fertilizer reduces toxic runoff into rivers, lakes and ultimately into drinking water.
Animals are never given antibiotics or hormones and must have organic food and safe, cage-free living conditions.
Crop rotation, cover crops, dense planting and animal manure are methods used to provide nutrients to plants as well as to control weeds and insects.
If I can’t afford to eat organic foods, what can I do to make my diet healthier?
The biggest downside to organic food is the higher production costs, which are passed on to consumers.
If you want to buy organic food but can’t afford to do so for all of your produce, the nonprofit Environmental Task Force reports that the following fruits and vegetables have the highest and highest levels of pesticides. low when not purchased organic:
Highest Pesticide Levels:
Lowest Pesticide Levels:
- Sweet corn.
- Sweet peas, frozen.
- Honeydew melon.
If you can’t afford to buy organic produce, washing and scrubbing fresh fruits and vegetables under running water can help remove bacteria and chemicals from the surface of the fruits and vegetables. Peeling fruits and vegetables can also remove surface pesticides, but also reduce nutrients.