Okay, so you want to eat healthily but are confused about all the jargon in the food industry? We don’t blame you! Especially in this age, there is so much information readily available to us, which is great… but it can also be SO confusing. One such term is ‘organic food’. What is organic food, anyway?
Of late, the word ‘organic’ has become such a catchphrase that it has entered the vernacular of almost every American's everyday use. While many people believe they understand the meaning of the term, few do. A few seconds of hard contemplation produces a myriad of questions: how is organic food different from garden-variety supermarket wares? What are the benefits? Who decides what is organic when labeling food packages? Can we trust those labels?
In this blog, we are getting your hands ‘organically’ dirty to examine the word, terms associated, claims, and certifications that food companies use in recognizing their food as ‘organic’. Are these labels for food companies to fill their organic pantry section or for consumers to make educated decisions about the food they are buying? Stay with us and read on.
Certified USDA ‘Organic’ Labels
On a farm level, the meaning of organic food gets dramatic. According to the USDA, certified organic produce must be “grown and processed on soil that has no prohibited substance applied for three years prior to harvest and is GMO-free.” This means farmers who produce organic products cannot use synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and can rely only on natural substances to grow. In certain situations, when a grower has to use a synthetic substance to achieve a specific purpose, the substance must first be approved according to criteria that examine its effects on human health and the environment.
Then what about organic meat? Well, that has rules too! Under the USDA regulations, animals grown for organic meat are “raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors (like the ability to graze on pasture), fed 100% organic feed and forage, and not administered antibiotics or hormones.”
Time to break down the items in your pantry too! Multi-ingredient food has to pass the USDA standards to be deemed organic. However, a good rule of thumb is that if an item states it is ‘made with organic ingredients’, it means that this item must contain at least 80% of organically produced ingredients.
What’s unique about organic food as opposed to garden-variant food?
You might find it interesting to learn that what determines your food as organic or garden-variant has got to do with two things: additives and preservatives. Additives can mean any substance that is added to change the food before it is consumed. That change may affect the quality of the food in color, consistency, taste and characteristics. Additives include preservatives that are used to extend the shelf life of a food and maintain its freshness.
What about the food product labels?
Well, that’s a tricky one. Just like there are zillions of concerned citizen action groups, there are zillions of corporate employees and attorneys finding ways around existing laws. If you are worried, look for a specific brand’s website for an authenticity certificate.
From farm to fork, the availability of affordable, safe, and sustainable food is an ever-growing concern for all. Food safety is not just an increasing environmental and health concern but it is a basic fundamental human right.
So yes, if you spot a food label shouting out loud as - 100% Organic, it has most likely been passed through stringent third-party inspections, and all shortcomings are reported. And in case it includes multiple ingredients, the individual ingredients are produced under the strict norms set by the food department.
So is organic food good for you?
With all of this being said, the question looms even larger: is organic healthier for you? That strawberry or potato has the same nutritional benefits, whether conventionally grown or organic. However, increased exposure to pesticides and additives have links to ADHD, autism, and cancer. Still not sure where to stand on this whole organic debate? No worries, check out the dirty dozen and maybe start by making the switch for some of your grocery list.