Making Heads or Tails Out of What it Means to Buy “Organic”

As consumers, we’ve been hearing and seeing the word “organic” left and right. It’s on labels, menus, sign and on all sorts of advertisements.  I’ve taken an interest in finding out what I could about what foods are  authentically organic so let me share what I’ve learned. Maybe it will help to make the “organic” definition less confusing to you, too.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) stepped in not too long ago to help consumers understand what is, what possibly might be and what is not organic. Their National Organic program oversees and regulates any farm, wild crop harvester or handling operation that wants to sell and market its product(s) as organically produced. If a product fits their criteria, it can bear the “USDA Organic Seal” right on it.

Farmers, harvesters and food handlers opt into this program if they want to be certified. Many participate, but there are some who choose not to. If you don’t see a seal on a product, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the food is not organic.  But if you do see the seal, you know it has been certified by the USDA as such.

There a two different types of phrases that the USDA approves for organic foods, but what do they mean?

Well if it has the USDA Organic seal of approval is actually on the food or if the producer is advertising it as organic, it means it’s either:

l  100% Organic: The product or all ingredients in it are completely organic or at least 95% of the ingredients are organic. Foods bearing this seal are usually always single-ingredient foods, such as produce, eggs and dairy products.

l  A food that is less than 95% organic but at least 70% of it’s ingredients have been deemed organic,  can legally boast (but not use the USDA Organic seal) that it is “ Made with Organic Ingredients.” These are usually dual-ingredient foods.

Finally any foods that are made up of 70% or less organic ingredients can have the qualified ingredients specified as organic in the ingredients list.  These won’t bear a USDA Organic seal, nor be able to use the phrase “Made with Organic Ingredients.”

I struggled at first, especially when there was no regulation, but now I’m familiar with the verbiage.

So what does it mean for a food to be organic?  The description of a food described as “organic” does not speak for the nutritional value of the food.  It refers to how the food is produced.  Organically produced food contains fewer pesticides than conventionally farmed foods.  Whether it’s “100% Organic” or “95% or More Organic,” both types of foods contain low enough levels of pesticides to be deemed safe for consumption by the government.

Organic foods are also either void of or very low in additives.

As far as the environment is concerned, long-term research still needs to be done in order to determine whether or not organic farming is better for the earth, but organic farming does place a strong emphasis on environmentally sound practices.

Is organic food a “better” choice?  Judge for yourself!  Check out the USDA website for more information on the National Organic Program.

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