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The market for “organic” food is booming in the United States as consumers look for safer and healthier options. According to industry sources, the organic segment of the produce industry is the fastest growing segment of the market. But what is organic food exactly, and is it really better for your kids?

The most widely accepted label identifying organic foods comes from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Foods labeled “USDA Organic” have met certain federal standards for growing and handling.

Organic farming is designed to encourage soil and water conservation, reduce pollution, and limit or eliminate pesticides and chemicals. Farmers and companies that want the organic label must adhere to strict guidelines. Producers with annual sales not exceeding $5,000 are exempted and do not require certification, but they must still follow USDA standards.

Currently in the US, there are three levels of organic foods. Foods that are made entirely with certified organic ingredients and methods are labeled “100 percent organic,” while products with at least 95 percent organic ingredients can be labeled “organic.” Meanwhile, foods with 70 percent organic ingredients are labeled as “made with organic products.” Products made with less than 70 percent organic ingredients can’t have the “organic” label, but can list specific organic ingredients that are in it.

The National Organic Program (NOP) regulates the organic industry for the federal government, operating under the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). NOP oversees organic foods and crops; it doesn’t regulate other products that might be considered organic, such as natural fibers (cotton), health and beauty products (shampoo, cosmetics, baby products, etc.).

Natural versus organic 

Many consumers believe that foods labeled “natural” and “organic” are the same thing. The truth, however, is that labels such as “natural,” “free range” and “hormone free” are not the same as organic. In order to receive an organic label, strict guidelines must be adhered to.

The benefits of organic foods

While recent studies haven’t found much of a difference between the nutritional content of organic and conventionally produced food, there are other benefits. Opting for organic foods limits a person’s exposure to pesticides and food additives. Organic farming has also been shown to be better for the environment by reducing pollution and conserving water and soil quality.

Takeaways

  • Organic refers to the way farmers grow and process their product, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products and meat.
  • There are currently three different organic categories in the US. A food must be at least 95 percent organically grown or raised in order to be labeled “organic.”
  • “Natural,” “cage free” and “hormone free” are not the same as organic.
  • While there is little convincing evidence that organic foods are more nutritious, there are other benefits, such as less pesticide exposure.

References

  1. United States Department of Agriculture. Organic Certification.
  2. Mayo Clinic. Organic Foods: Are they Safer? More Nutritious?
  3. National Resources Defense Council. The Benefits of Organic Food.

Comments

  1. Great article! Thanks!

    Reply
  2. Within the last two years I have started buying organic foods such as berries, carrots, milk and eggs. Since organic is more expensive though I have to pick and choose so I buy what I think will be more beneficial in the long run for my girls.

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  3. I try to buy organic berries, grapes, lettuce, etc.. However, foods with a thicker skin (lemons, bananas, oranges, etc) I buy conventional. I also buy organic milk just because I honestly think it taste better and has a longer expiration date. I pick and choose which organic products to buy. Realistically, I would spend so much more money if I bought everything organic. Therefore, I do the best I can and stick to conventional when needed. 🙂

    Reply
  4. So I have this battle constantly with my exhusband. He feeds our son, or claims that he only feeds organic fruits and veggies. I do not always do this. Is it really that much better? And what is the big deal if our kids eat junk every now and again? I feel like my son has a complex about food because of this. He says he cant eat this or eat that because it has too much sugar or it isnt natural. It makes me feels bad because I feel like my son thinks I dont give him good food, or that we are unhealthy. He constantly asks me about food coloring and if its bad, etc.

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  5. We try to buy “natural” or “organic” when available, but there just are a lot of options for that where we live right now. If I drive 45 minutes to town, I can go to a Fresh Market, and when I’m in that area, I do stop in and get what I can. I was really worried about it when we first started solid foods with my son, but I’ve gotten a lot more relaxed about it since we’ve moved and aren’t as close to those stores with the organic options. My new mindset it that it’s better to feed him as many fresh fruits and veggies as possible, even if they aren’t “organic.”

    Reply
    1. That was supposed to say “there just AREN’T a lot of options.” 🙂

      Reply
  6. Thanks for this! It is true that “natural” gets tossed around so much on labels and really doesn’t have a standard meaning. Marijuana is natural, right?? Great read!

    Reply

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