What Does Organic Really Mean?

Set of Organic food and Product Badges and label

Set of Organic food and Product Badges and label

Did you know that in the United States, the word organic has a legal definition? This is good news because so many other words that you find on food labels (I’m looking at you, “all-natural”!!) isn’t regulated by the FDA, which means they are primarily used for purposes of sales and marketing, as opposed to that of informing the consumer.

The word organic is different. And when you buy organic in the United States (or buy products with the USDA Organic Label), you can actually learn something about the food, depending, of course, on what kind of food it is:

Fruits, Veggies, and Other Produce certified organic means:

  • Grown in soil that hasn’t used chemical fertilizers or pesticides for 3 years.
  • Not produced with Genetically Modified seeds (GMO’s — the O stands for organisms)

Meat certified organic means:

  • Animals are raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors.
  • Fed 100% organic feed and forage
  • Not administered antibiotics or hormones.
  • Not produced with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s)

For processed, multi-ingredient foods, organic means:

  • No artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors
  • All ingredients organic (with some minor exceptions like enzymes in yogurt, for example)
  • Not produced with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s)

Foods that say “made with organic [whatever]” :

  • 70% of the ingredient is organic.

So… Should I Buy Organic?

The answer, in 99%* of cases is “yes”. Protecting you and your family from the chemicals in fertilizers and the genetic manipulations of GMO’s is an important part of healthy living and cancer prevention. Unfortunately, buying organic is a bit more expensive in the short term, but when you weigh those costs against the rising cost of medical care, investing in your health will always be cheaper.

The final caveat we’ll say about all of this is that getting certified organic is expensive, which means that while your local farm might be growing all its food organically, it might not be able to say that it’s organic because it hasn’t paid to go through the whole process.

When shopping at a farmer’s market, feel free to ask the vendors how their products are grown and/or produced. If they tell you they are “grown organically”, this is a good sign that they are probably “organic”, even if their operation hasn’t been officially certified.

USDA Organic Seal

Update: A recent post from Healthy Holistic Living, mentioned several ways that organic foods fall short:

You’re going to be shocked to learn that there is no limit to how much mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic and aluminum is allowed in “organic” products.

It’s a fact: USDA organic standards place NO LIMITS on levels of heavy metals contamination of certified organic foods. Even further, there is no limit on the contamination of PCBs, BPA and other synthetic chemicals that’s allowed in certified organic foods, superfoods and supplements.

In other words, organic tells us something about how food is grown — but fails to tell us anything about the environmental conditions that crops may be exposed to.

2020-04-17T11:01:02-07:00