Until recently, it was only possible to find organic food in health food stores, on old fashioned farms, or in your own garden. Today organic food is fast becoming popular and you can find organic choices in almost every market. Many consumers are having trouble choosing between organic produce and that which is grown with chemicals and pesticides. Is it worth the price? Is it really a healthier choice?
What Are The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Standards?
To be labeled as an organic food by the USDA, foods must be produced, processed and handled according to specific standards. Food products cannot be labeled as organic without USDA certification unless the producer sells only a small amount (less than $5000 worth) of organic food per year. These small farmers are exempt from USDA certification; however, they must still comply with USDA standards.
Most organic farmers want to label their products as certified organic by the USDA; however, it is not mandatory to use the seal. Items that bear the USDA organic certification seal are guaranteed to be 95-100% organic. Generally speaking, the only products that can be 100% organic are single ingredient items, such as eggs.
Products that are made up of at least 70% organic ingredients can bear the statement: “Made with organic ingredients”. These types of products cannot bear the USDA organic seal. Other labels you might see include: “natural”, “hormone-free”, “free-range” or “all-natural”. Remember that this is no guarantee that the product is organic.
How Does Organic Farming Work?
Farmers who use organic methods do not use pesticides and chemicals. Instead, they practice careful, old fashioned farming methods that involve smart crop rotation, the use of organic matter such as manure to fertilize the soil and mulch to conserve water and discourage weed growth. When raising livestock, organic methods include feeding stock organic grains and other types of feed, allowing animals to spend time outdoors, and keeping animals healthy by keeping the premises clean and safe. Organic methods are more sustainable for the earth and more humane for livestock.
How Does “Conventional” Farming Work?
This type of farming has come to be known as conventional farming relies heavily on chemicals, pesticides, herbicides and other synthetic substances to spur growth of crops and deter weeds and pests. Animals are kept confined indoors (usually in small cages) and fed growth hormones and antibiotics to force rapid growth and prevent disease. Depletion of nutrients in the soil and excessive consumption of water are common, and the practices used in animal husbandry can be considered cruel.
Are Organic Foods Really As Much Better For You As The Price Seems To Indicate?
In terms of nutritional content, it seems that products produced with conventional farming methods and products produced organically are similar; however, organic foods do not also carry a coating of pesticides, herbicides and chemicals or a load of unnecessary antibiotics and hormones. The chemicals used in food growing and production can result in a significant residue within the food.
It is also important to remember that food additives (flavoring, coloring, artificial sweeteners, preservatives, etc.) are used in the processing of non-organic food products. While the amount of chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, hormones and additives found in non-organic food products is within safety thresholds established by the USDA, the fact is these traces can build up in your system over time and compromise your health.
What If You Can’t Afford To Go Completely Organic?
It is understood that organic farming is a more expensive than factory farming because it is more labor intensive. For this reason, many people are not able to go completely organic; however, every little bit helps both you and the planet. Additionally, today more and more stores are offering good organic products at reasonable prices.
Even if you are only able to afford to add few organic products to your shopping cart, you will be doing yourself and the planet a favor. Organic farming is better for the environment because it does not get polluted with chemicals, pesticides and herbicides, and it conserves water. In terms of meat, milk and dairy production, organic farming is more humane and the food products are more healthful.
Consider organic choices as a way to enhance and improve your diet and your health. Make smart choices and be sure to eat a plentiful and varied diet to meet your nutritional needs.