Finding Out What the Term “Organic” Really Means

A typical day of grocery shopping is more complicated than one may think. When looking for peanut butter, for instance, one has to consider several things. Is the brand affordable? Does it have a lot of fat and sugar? If it’s healthy, will it still taste good? Is it natural? And most importantly, is it organic?

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Too many people walk into grocery stores and associate anything labeled organic with the sometimes expensive price tag attached to it. Some people just buy organic either way simply because they’ve heard that it’s better. I mean, if it’s more expensive, that must make it good for you right? The sad part is, most people don’t really fully understand what the term organic means or why it is beneficial in our foods. So welcome to your crash course on organic shopping 101.

  1. Organic and all natural are not the same thing. “All Natural” is a term used on labels that is not regulated by the government in any way (other than some meat products) and could mean something as simple as just not using synthetic sugar. Organic, however, is a heavily regulated term that cannot be used on labels without official USDA certification. Also, while “All Natural” refers more to what is in the food, organic is referring to what is in the product and how it was made.
  2. A lot goes in to being USDA Organic Certified. USDA agents are in charge of visiting farms, etc. to see how the product is produced and how it affects the environment. Organically labeled products may not use genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or chemicals as fertilizer or pesticides. Antibiotics are also not allowed to be given to animals. They have to constantly maintain separation between organic and non-organic foods (sometimes from nearby farmers) and have to be inspected spontaneously. This is a problem especially now with the controversy of patents on GMOs by companies like Monsanto.
  3. Organic food is better for the environment. DDT, a pesticide used in the 50’s and 60’s, became banned because led to a rapid decrease in nearby species where it was used, particularly in birds. Pesticides today have a similar effect, but span out over longer periods of time. Chemicals used in those pesticides and in fertilizers also have a negative effect on water quality, which effect ecosystems nearby as well as people who use that water source for drinking.
  4. Organic food is better for you. Every time a person takes in antibiotics, bacteria becomes more immune to them. This means that every time you eat meat that has had antibiotics, you ingest some too, and become more resistant to them when you need them most. Similarly, eating produce that has been sprayed with pesticides can lead to a build up of toxins that can prove harmful for pregnant women, children, and the elderly.

Overall, organic food is a worthwhile payoff. A few cents extra on the price tag is much less than the medical bills or taxes to fix the environmental or personal harm that often occurs.

For more information, visit the following links:

Tips for Shopping for Organic Foods on a Budget

Organic Labeling Fact Sheet

Organic Certification Process Fact Sheetย 

-Morgan Faulkner, Sierra Club Intern

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2 responses to “Finding Out What the Term “Organic” Really Means

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  2. Pingback: Wednesday Bubba Tips: Going Organic | BubbaMama.com

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