The term organic is everywhere these days. No matter what store you go to—Whole Foods, the corner store or your local farmer’s market, everyone is throwing around the term “organic.” But even with the familiarity of the word setting in, do people really know what it means? What makes that higher-priced fuji apple worth so much more than the one next to it labeled conventional?
Well you are in luck, because we are going to break it down for you and get rid of all the confusing terminology so that you can decide which option works best for you.
Organic vs. Conventional Food?
Not anyone can call their product or products organic. The term refers to the way that the farmer or rancher grows, raises or processes the food. Producers of organic goods differ from that of conventional producers in a number of ways, mostly in the pesticides and fertilizers they use.
When it comes to animals, organic farmers allow their animals the more freedom to roam outside, rotate their grazing areas and provide their stock with a healthy environment and diet of organic feed. Conventional farmers aren’t held to these standards and are allowed to give their animals antibiotics when sick or to prevent illness, but can also provide growth hormones and other unhealthy additives.
Organic farmers also use natural fertilizers such as compost and manure and rid fields of pesticides from natural sources, like placing the right insects and birds in the area, or reduce pests using traps and different disruptions to the pests mating routine. With conventional methods, farmers are allowed to use chemical fertilizers to produce larger, more lucrative crops and spray insecticides that kill off and prevent new pests from entering the fields.
What is that label actually telling me?
In order to help consumers decipher all the misleading buzzwords that companies are allowed to slap on a label, the USDA created a special seal that only qualified organic products can use. Foods using the seal must be grown, harvested and then processed as stated by the national standards. These standards include a minimal use of hormones, antibiotics and pesticides. The only pesticides allowed by organic farmers come from natural sources, instead of those treated with synthetic materials, sewage waste or any type of radiation.
When looking to buy organic foods, check out the following terms on the label, provided by New York University professor Marion Nestle:
- Food labeled “100% organic” has no synthetic ingredients and can legally use the USDA organic seal.
- Food labeled “organic” has a minimum of 95% organic ingredients. It is eligible to use the USDA organic seal.
- Food labeled “made with organic ingredients” must contain at least 70% organic ingredients. It is not eligible for the USDA seal.
- Meat, eggs, poultry, and dairy labeled “organic” must come from animals that have never received antibiotics or growth hormones.
Don’t confuse the organic label with terms like “natural,” “hormone free,” or “free range.” These terms have their own standards, and while they may be beneficial depending on your needs, they should never be considered organic.
Is it worth the price?
One of the most popular debates and considerations when deciding between organic and conventional food is the price point. With the benefits that organic foods bring comes the added dollars to the total bill. This is mostly because of the extra labor that comes with using natural pesticides and fertilizers. Since produce tends to contain and carry the most pesticides, experts suggest that you budget more to include these in your diet over other organic products.
When in doubt, look for the “dirty dozen.”
The bottom line, no matter if you chose to purchase organic or conventional foods, make sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Even with the use of fertilizers or pesticides, the health benefits incorporated with eating fresh produce instead of processed and packaged foods far outweighs any of the risks that conventional food carries. At minimum, follow the government’s recommendation of 4-5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
And make sure to thoroughly wash all the produce that you buy before you eat it to remove lingering residues like pesticides, bacteria and dirt. Rinsing all produce, even when you don’t eat the skin, will help reduce your chances of ingesting any harmful substances, but soaking them is best. Fill your sink with water and add ½ cup white distilled vinegar and soak all produce for at least 15 minutes, and then rinse with water. It will wash off any residue and some believe it helps extend the life of your produce. You can also mix one-part vinegar with three-parts water in a bottle and spray then rinse produce before eating.
Now that you know the differences and advantages between organics and conventional, which way do you lean? Hopefully this info with help you decide if that more expensive organic fuji apple will be worth incorporating into your weekly budget.