Organic Foods: to Buy or Not to Buy?
Conventional vs. Organic: What Is the Difference?
|Use chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth||Apply natural fertilizers, such as manure or compost to feed the soil and plants|
|Apply insecticides to reduce pests and disease||Use beneficial insects (insects that eat other insects) and birds to reduce pests and disease|
|May use antibiotics, growth hormones, and medicines to promote growth and prevent disease||Give animals organic feed; rely on preventive measures, rotational grazing, a balanced diet, and clean housing to reduce disease|
How Can I Be Certain My Organic Food Is Really Organic?
|USDA Organic Food Labeling Requirements|
|100% organic products||can display the USDA organic seal||
|Organic products||can display the USDA organic seal||
|Made with organic ingredients (or similar statement)||cannot display the USDA organic seal.||
|Made with some organic ingredients||cannot display the USDA organic seal||
- Nutrition—The USDA does not claim that organic food is any better, or any less nutritious than food produced by conventional methods. The only difference between organic foods and conventionally produced foods is the way they are grown, handled, and processed.
- Quality and appearance—Organic foods must meet the same standards of quality and safety as conventionally produced food. But, you may notice organic foods look less perfect than conventionally produced foods. You may also notice that organic fruits and vegetables spoil slightly faster. This is because conventionally produced foods are often selected for their perfect appearance and then treated with waxes or preservatives to prolong their shelf life.
- Pesticides—Some people buy organic foods as a way of avoiding exposure to the pesticides conventional farmers use to protect their crops from molds, insects, and disease, and this may be a factor in your decision making. But, most experts agree that the small amounts of residual pesticides found on conventionally grown produce poses a very small health risk to humans and that the health benefits of eating fresh produce outweigh any risks.
- Environment—Many people opt for organic products because they support the goal of organic farming, which is to benefit the environment by reducing pollution and conserving soil and water.
- Cost—Cost is often a consideration when making the decision to purchase organic products. Most organic products do cost more than their conventionally produced counterparts. This is because the practices used to produce them are, in many cases, more expensive than those used to produce conventional products.
- Taste—Some people claim to be able to taste the difference between organic and nonorganic foods. Others say they cannot. Taste is a personal and very subjective consideration.
- In order to ensure the highest quality, buy your produce in season.
- Try to buy your produce on the day it is delivered. Ask your grocer what day new produce arrives.
- Read food labels carefully. Even organic foods can be high in sugar, salt, fat, or calories.
- Do not confuse natural with organic. These terms are not interchangeable, nor are other common terms like free-range or hormone free. Only foods clearly labeled organic have met USDA organic standards.
- Wash all produce thoroughly before eating it.
- If you are concerned about pesticides, try peeling your produce, or trimming the outer leaves so you can wash it thoroughly. Trim fat from meat and the skin of poultry and fish as some pesticides may collect there as well.
The National Organic Program http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/nop/
US Department of Agriculture http://www.usda.gov/
Canadian Council on Food and Nutrition http://www.ccfn.ca/
Healthy Canadians http://www.healthycanadians.gc.ca/
Labeling packaged products under the national organic standards. US Department of Agriculture website. Available at: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5078591. Published July 27, 2009. Accessed April 25, 2012.
National Organic Program. United States Department of Agriculture website. Available at: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3004346. Updated April 2008. Accessed April 26, 2012.
Organic food standards and labels: The facts. The National Organic Program website. Available at: http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/consumers/brochure.html. Updated February 7, 2012. Accessed April 23, 2012.
Organic foods: new options with growing differences. The Mayo Clinic website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/invoke.cfm?objectid=039DC948-6412-41AE-A46232789E371DC5 . Accessed July 29, 2003.
Organic production and organic food: information access tools. U.S. Department of Agriculture website. Available at: http://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/pubs/ofp/ofp.shtml . Accessed March 16, 2008.
Understanding organic labeling. National Organic Program, US Department of Agriculture website. Available at: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/ams.fetchTemplateData.do?template=TemplateAnavID=NationalOrganicProgramleftNav=NationalOrganicProgrampage=NOPUnderstandingOrganicLabelingdescription=Understanding%20Organic%20Labelingacct=nopgeninfo . Updated February 2010. Accessed March 11, 2010.
Veneman marks implementation of USDA national organic standards. US Department of Agriculture website. Available at: http://www.usda.gov/news/releases/2002/10/0453.htm . Accessed September 12, 2003.
- Reviewer: Brian Randall, MD
- Review Date: 04/2012 -
- Update Date: 04/26/2012 -