Organic is a standard developed to describe food produced according to specific guidelines. Crops that meet the organic standards are grown without resort to chemical fertilizers, sewage sludge, or conventional pesticides and herbicides.
Animals raised under the organic standard do not receive routine antibiotic treatment or growth hormones. For all these reasons, organic food benefits our environment and all of us.
Conventional food is produced on a large scale, using many different scientifically produced chemicals with harmful effects on our health and the environment around us. Plants and animals raised on a conventional farm may also be genetically modified for specific traits.
Organic food is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the market. Big box retailers, supermarkets, and local groceries alike have all begun to sports sections for organic food. In this situation, it was necessary to describe what is organic food and develop some new standards, including labeling and organic food safety.
Organic food is regulated by the USDA’s National Organic Program.
Organic Food Benefits
Organic food benefits us in many ways. Organic crops have been shown to contain more vital trace elements like chromium than conventional crops. This means that it’s easier for us to get the full amount of necessary minerals from organic produce.
Organic food also allows us to enjoy tastier food, conserve our environment, and build a sense of community by purchasing our food from more local sources.
There’s no conclusive evidence that organic food is better for you than conventional food. However, proponents of organic food point to studies in which organic food tested with higher quantities of vital trace minerals and the fact that many pesticides and herbicides may be carried in produce, milk, and meat.
People who are sensitive to certain chemicals, who are at risk for disease, small children, and others, should consider switching to organic food. Of course, anyone may be able to benefit from buying organic.
Organic Food and Health Issues
To be certified organic in the United States, food must meet specific standards. These standards emphasize using renewable resources instead of ones that are quickly depleted and conserving water and soil.
Organic animal products must come from animals that have not been given routine antibiotic treatments or growth hormones, although antibiotic treatment for sick animals is permitted. Conventional pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, genetic engineering, and irradiation are all prohibited in certified organic food.
Also, the feed that animals raised organically receive must be from an organic source itself. This means that the field the animal feed comes from must have complied with organic food and health standards for three years or more.
Organic Food Tastes Better
Produce grown organically is generally grown in better-balanced soils and allowed to ripen fully before you receive it. It hasn’t been engineered for durability or fast fruiting, like many conventional crops. That means it tastes better. Likewise, animals raised under the organic standard must be allowed pasture and free-roaming space. This means that they’re healthier and that products from them are tastier.
Organic apples have been scientifically tested to be sweeter and to last longer in storage than their conventional cousins, and other foods follow suit.
Organic Food and the Environment
Organic food contains fewer potentially dangerous chemicals than conventional food and protects water quality. In the United States, organic food cannot be from genetically engineered stock. This means that the food you buy, which is certified organic is a known quality.
Farmers who meet organic food and health standards are required to attempt to conserve soil and water and to use renewable resources whenever possible.
Organic farming leads to less erosion, less farm runoff, and less petrochemical pollution than conventional farming styles. Organic farmers also kill fewer insects and animals during the course of food production, meaning that the food chain on an organic farm is more likely to remain intact.
Because organic farmers often use heirloom seeds, more varieties of plants and animals are being preserved. This is a big deal, as older varieties are increasingly disappearing in the face of patented seeds and genetic engineering.
Organic Food Information – Safety and Quality Facts
Of course, not everything on the organic shelf is one hundred percent certified organic. This doesn’t always mean that the food doesn’t live up to the standards – many small farms using organic methods haven’t chosen to get certified. However, you have to decide about the food that comes from these farms on a case by case basis.
Meat from a farm that uses organic methods might be from animals that are treated humanely, but not fed organic feed, for instance. Also, there’s a growing number of products on the market, which are labeled as using organic ingredients, or made with organic. It can be hard to figure out which foods are fully organic, and which are merely cashing in.
In general people who suffer from health problems related to trace amounts of commercial pesticides and other chemicals may find that these problems diminish when they start buying organic.
Imported food may contain chemicals banned in the U.S., but used elsewhere, like DDT. We still make these chemicals in this country, and export them elsewhere, even though their use is banned here.
Even EPA approved pesticides and herbicides are considered carcinogenic. Sixty percent of all weed killers, ninety percent of fungicides, and thirty percent of insecticides are considered potential causes of cancer.
It’s impossible to keep some traces of these chemicals out of the food they are used on, although it is still hotly debated as to how much is needed to cause cancer. Farmworkers are exposed to these chemicals regularly.
Poisonings from pesticide use have risen at an average of fourteen percent per year since the early seventies – to around a million every year.
Labeling Standards for Organic Food
The USDA has four labeling standards when it comes to organic food. This means that you’ll see foods on the store shelf labeled 100% organic, Organic, Made With Organic Ingredients, and foods that are less than 70% organic, and may not use the word on the main panel.
One hundred percent of organic foods are just what they say, and may carry the USDA organic seal. Foods labeled merely Organic must have 95% organic content by weight, and may also carry that seal. Foods using the words made with organic must have at least 70% organic content by weight may use that phrase on the front panel, and may list up to three specific ingredients. However, they can’t display the seal.
Food with less than 70% organic content can’t claim to be organic on the front panel but may list organic ingredients on the ingredient panel.
Choosing organic food correctly is just a matter of being informed about the regulations and reading the labels. In the case of organic food, which comes from small local farms, you may even be able to visit the farm yourself, to see where your food comes from and how it is produced.
As the organic industry grows, it becomes more important to know how to find out whether the food you’re buying is really organic, or just the product of another company hoping to cash in on the newest craze. Finding organic food information, being educated about the organic guidelines, and asking questions are all ways to make sure you get what you’re paying for.