Food packaging and marketing bombards us with claims such as “organic”, “natural”, “free-range”, “hormone free” and the promise of a greener and healthier lifestyle. But what do these claims actually mean? What are the implications for your health and for the environment? Here are 5 things you should know about organic products that will answer those questions.
1. Know the Regulations.
In 2002, the USDA implemented an organic foods program that harmonized food processing standards for farmers and organizations alike. The government standards, under the operation of the National Organic Program (NOP), regulates how foods can be grown, handled and processed, and are intended to resolve the once discombobulated nature of past operating standards circa the 1990s. If a product bears a USDA Organic Label (shown here), that means it’s approved and processed by a company that is accredited under USDA standards.
2. The USDA Makes the Rules.
Picky or not, the USDA attempts to remain as transparent as possible when certifying certain products as organic versus others, hence the lengthy terminology and classifications. But here are the basics: “Completely organic” or “100% Organic” mean just that: these products are made up of 100% organic ingredients and can bear the organic label. “Organic” means the product has at least 95% organic ingredients and can bear the label. However, products labeled “containing organic ingredients” are those that are made up of at least 70% organic materials and are not considered organic according to USDA standards. They are permitted to include organic terms on the packaging, but are prohibited from using the organic label.
3. It May Be Better for You…
The on-going debate over whether organic food products are better for you or have no difference from non-organic foods continues. However, most studies would suggest that organic foods have more nutrients, antioxidants, higher levels of vitamin C, and trace minerals than do conventionally-grown products. Additional studies show that people with food allergies see symptoms lessen or disappear completely when consuming organic food. Because it’s neither a confirmed nor denied hypothesis, research continues in attempts to prove that certain chemicals or preservatives are the reason for the food allergy cure. Believe what you want; just know that the facts aren’t so clear on this situation.
4. …AND Better for the Environment!
Organic food typically comes from animals that are not fed growth hormones, animal byproducts, or antibiotics that conventional animals are given. Farming organically reduces air pollution, conserves water, reduces soil erosion, increases soil fertility, and uses less energy. Organic food is produced using fewer to no pesticides, which is beneficial to land animals and humans. The byproducts of traditional farming molecules can stick around for years to come by being dispersed into the environment, but organic molecules are much better at breaking pesticides down so they do not remain on the food we eat. A video by Safer Brand discusses the molecule differences in more detail.
5. Avoid Misconceptions.
Many people tend to confuse “natural foods” with organic, however they each have very distinct meanings. Items that are labeled as “natural,” “all natural,” “free-range,” or “hormone free” may not contain artificial flavoring, colors, or preservatives just like organic foods do not, however, this label does not indicate anything about the raising and care of animals and the items are not required to abide by particular government regulations. These two specifications are what make natural food a separate entity from organic food. Only products that are grown and processed according to the standards set forth by the USDA can be labeled organic.
Post written by Shane Jones, who supports homegrown products, and is fighting to help people live a healthier life, and utilize products that support our environment’s sustainability.