Health knowledge made personal
Join this community!
› Share page:

Introduction to Organic Food

Organic food is becoming more and more popular, as people look for ways to live a healthier, pesticide-free, environmentally friendly, and sustainable lifestyle.

When the organic food movement began, organic farms were relatively small operations, and their products were available mostly in local markets. Since the early 1990's, the interest in organic food has grown at a rate of 20% per year. Today, organic food is available in most markets and grocery stores, and makes up about 3% of food sales in the U.S.

What does "Organic" mean?

The production standards for organic certification for crops require that the farmers use no pesticides, artificial fertilizer, human or other waste, and that they are not processed using ionizing radiation or other additives. Animals grown for food must be reared without the routine use of growth hormone or antibiotics. Neither plants nor animals can be genetically modified.

Why should I buy organic foods?

While this is ultimately a personal decision, here are some reasons why people choose organic foods:

Environmental impact

Organic farms use less energy and produce less waste than traditional farms. Organic production methods are gentler on the environment, especially since they do not release synthetic pesticides into the soil and water. However, organic farmers are able to use "organic" pesticides, such as Bt, pyrethrum, and rotenone.

Less Pesticide residue

Organic foods have much less pesticide residue than conventionally grown foods. This may be of greatest benefit to growing children, who are more sensitive to the potentially toxic effects of pesticides. Recent studies have shown clearly that people who switch to organic foods have much reduced levels of pesticides in their bodies.

Taste and nutritional value

Many people describe that organic produce tastes better, and it seems that better taste and greater freshness are major reasons why people choose organic. The published studies on this issue have been less conclisive. In a study in 2001 at Washington State University, reviewers found that organic apples were sweeter. However, in larger studies, researchers have found no consistent differences in taste or nutritional value of organic foods compared to non organic foods.

It is certainly true that fresher foods taste better, and organic foods from local farmers are going to be fresher than foods distributed through retail grocery chains. This is one of the reasons that buying local foods is attracting greater interest.

Cost

More and more, people are making the choice to buy organic despite the cost, which is 10-100% more than similar non organic items. The higher price reflects the higher costs associated with avoiding traditional mass production methods (including fertilizers and pesticides), plus there is a cost o f obtaining and maintaining the organic certification.

Organic labeling

The label "organic" on food items is regulated by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), which requires that any food item labeled organic meet a high set o f organic food production standards. In the U.S., the National Organic Program (NOP) administers the standards and requires that producers and the processors of foods must be certified organic before the food can carry the USDA organic label.

Food packages may have the USDA Organic food seal, if they contain at least 95% organic ingredients.

Additionally, a food package may carry a label 100% Organic only if 100% of the ingredients are organic, or simply say Organic if at least 95% of the ingredients are organic.

A package my say Made with organic ingredients if at least 70% of the ingredients are organic, and the packaging may not use the "USDA Organic" label.

If less than 70% of the ingredients are organic, the side panel label may indicate which ingredients are organic, but the word "Organic" cannot appear on the front of the package.

Are organic foods worth it?

That is a difficult question, and ultimately it is a personal decision. Parents worried about the effects of pesticide residues are choosing organic foods for their children, and people of all ages are making the organic choice both for the health benefits, and to support the environment.