Nikola

Organic Food: Help! I’m sooo confused!

In Your Health, Your World on June 25, 2010 at 8:57 AM

 

If you’re like most folks you probably try, (or at least think about :)) taking care of your body  by eating “right”.  You may even be the type that occasionally buys foods that conserve Mother Earth’s resources.  But, if you’re like me, with dietitians, nutritionists, and green experts throwing around terms like hormone-free, free-range, natural, and organic, you don’t know what to buy or eat!

 After-all, isn’t organic just a fancy word for natural?  

After doing a bit of research, I found the answer … No!  Even though these terms often appear on food labels they don’t have the same meanings. 

What is organic food? 

Organic refers to the way agricultural products such as grains, fruit, vegetables, dairy products, poultry, and meat are grown, raised and processed.  For example, organic farmers don’t use conventional methods to fertilize crops or feed animals.  Instead of using synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, techniques like crop rotation, adding compost and even beneficial insects are utilized.  Animals raised on organic farms are fed organic foods, allowed access to the outdoors and kept in clean living quarters.  And unlike conventionally raised livestock, they’re not given antibiotics, or growth hormones.    

In addition, organic farms and companies that process organic foods must be certified by the government that they meet United States Department of Agriculture, (USDA) organic standards.  The only exceptions to this law is are business that sell less than $5000.00 a year in  organic products. Violators face a stiff penalty of $11000.00 per  incident.

How Can You Tell If Food is Organic? 

Read the label.  Most, (though not required), certified farms and businesses label their products with USDA Organic Seal. 

Use the guide below to help identify  organic agricultural products.  

100% Organic

  • Product must be 100% organically produced; this does not include added water or salt
  • Product label must list: the ingredients when the product has more than one ingredient, the name and address of the manufacturer, distributor, etc, of the finished product and the name of the certifying agent
  • Product may display USDA Organic Seal 

95% Organic

  • Product must be 95% organic; this doesn’t include added water or salt. 
  • 5% of the product may contain non-organic products that are not commercially available in organic forms.
  • May use the word “Organic” in the product name  
  • Product label must list the ingredients, noting the organic ingredients, the name and address of the manufacturer, distributor, etc, of the finished product, and the name of the certifying agent
  • Product cannot contain sulfites  (a food preservative)
  • Product may display USDA Organic Seal 

Made With Organic

  • 70% of the product must be organic; this doesn’t include added water or salt
  • 30% of the product may contain non-organic products that are not commercially available in organic forms
  • May use the words, “Made with organic …”  
  • Wine products may contain added sulfites in the form of sulfur dioxide
  • The product label must list the ingredients, noting the organic ingredients, the name and address of the manufacturer, distributor, etc, of the finished product, and the name of the certifying agent
  • The USDA Organic Seal may not be used 

Some Organic Ingredients

  • 70% or less of the product may be organic
  • 30% or more of the product may contain non-organic agricultural ingredients 
  • The product label must list the ingredients, noting the organic products 
  • The USDA Organic Seal or certifying agent seal may not be used 

While natural, hormone-free, and free-range are important product labels, don’t confuse them with certified organic foods – they’re not the same nor are the words interchangeable. Be a smart shopper by familiarizing yourself with all these terms.  Understanding product symbols and labels allows you to make better nutritional decisions for you and your family. 

Resources 

USDA National Organic Program  

Organic.org  – Find practical educational material about “going organic”.  Also, has fun activities for kids.  

Local Harvest – Find organic farmers’ markets, and family farms in your area.

What are your thoughts on organic foods?  Are they really better for your health?  Are they worth the expense?  Or, are they over-rated?

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  1. If I could afford it, I’d buy all organic and free-range food. At the very least, however, I do try to stick with free-range meats and eggs, organic if available. For me, it’s worth the expense, for your health and your conscience. It’s not about what’s in them, but rather what’s NOT and how the animals are treated.

    Between antibiotics and hormones (which change the way our bodies work and our tolerance to medicines), high fructose corn syrup, and the lack of labeling for genetically modified foods, (more on that here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ronnie-cummins/generation-monsanto-gm_b_619561.html) it’s no wonder Americans are more overweight and unhealthy than ever!

    Natina

    http://crosswordcharlie.wordpress.com/

  2. Thanks for this very useful post, and for elaborating on what constitutes “organic.” I admit that in the past, it has been confusing to me in my efforts to eat better and learn more about labeling and foods.

  3. Thanks for your comments Natina and Jen.

    Natina,
    The article on genetically modified food is surprising, to say the least, and a good read for everyone – thanks for posting the link. I agree with your position on treating animals humanly, it’s the right approach for all concerned.

    Glad I could help Jen! I’m pretty particular about the foods I eat, but recently made a conscious effort to buy more organic foods, especially now that I know what to look for.

    Free-range, hormone-free, natural and organic – all good options for eating well.

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