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.
- 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.