What does “organic” mean?
The term “organic” refers to the way agricultural products are grown and processed. While the regulations vary from country to country, in the U.S., organic crops must be grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers, chemical herbicides, pesticides, or bioengineered genes (GMOs).
Organic livestock kept for meat, eggs, and dairy products must be raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors (such as the ability to graze on pasture) and fed organic feed and forage. They may not be given antibiotics, growth hormones, or any animal by-products (Lawrence). Diseases are prevented by thorough house cleaning.
Organic crops are grown using natural manure and compost. Weeds are also controlled using hand weeding, mulching, tilling, practicing crop rotation, or organic-approved herbicides.
Examples of Organic Food
The most commonly purchased organic foods are fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products, and meat. Nowadays, many processed organic products are available, such as sodas, cookies, and breakfast cereals (Brown).
Research has shown that the listed fruits and vegetables contain large amounts of pesticide residues, and therefore choosing organic products is advisable (Lawrence). They include apples, sweet bell peppers, cucumbers, celery, potatoes, grapes, cherry tomatoes, kale/collard greens, summer squash, Nectarines, peaches, strawberries, hot peppers, and spinach.
Organic meats are full of flavor when compared to conventional meat. This is because animals are not exposed to hormones that accelerate their growth. Organic meat also contains higher levels of Omega 3 acids and slightly lower levels of saturated fats than conventional meat. A higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids has been associated with many health benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease.
The Organic Food Market
Since the late 20th century, the organic food market has exponentially grown, evolving into a multibillion-dollar industry with distinct production, processing, distribution, and retail systems (Duram). In fact, US consumers spent $39.1 billion on organic produce in 2014 (Brown). The popularity does not seem to be slowing down, as sales increased by more than 11% from 2014 to 2015 (Brown). Organic foods are more expensive than their conventional foods counterparts because of their costly certification process. The operational cost of running an organic farm is also high, yet the yields are low compared to conventional farming. What is more, the American government rarely gives subsidies to organic farmers, and this also affects the final pricing. Despite all these hurdles, the organic food industry is still thriving.
The Benefit of Organic Food
Organic food is known to have numerous benefits to the body since it is antioxidants and certain micronutrients, such as vitamin C, zinc, and iron. In fact, according to Brown antioxidant levels can be up to 69% higher in these foods. One study found that organically grown berries and corn contained 58% more antioxidants and up to 52% higher amounts of vitamin C (Brown). This is because plants produce their own natural protection in the form of antioxidants.
Organic farmers use minimal pesticides on their crops, and therefore, they are safe to consume.
Organic foods are GMO-free and are also fresher because they do not contain food preservatives.
How to Identify Organic Food Using Food labels
Since Fraud threatens the organic food industry, it is crucial to check out the USDA organic seal because it is the only one that is federally certified by accredited agents.
According to Brown, one should also watch for these statements on food labels, so you can identify food that is genuinely organically grown:
100% Organic: This product is made entirely from organic ingredients.
Organic: At least 95% of the ingredients in this product are organic.
Made with Organic: At least 70% of the ingredients are organic.
If a product contains less than 70% organic ingredients, it cannot be labeled organic or use the USDA seal. Similar standards are enforced in Europe, Canada, and Australia. Each country or continent has its own seal to help consumers identify organic food.
Organic Food and the Environment
The overall impacts of organic agriculture are beneficial to the environment. Certified organic production methods prohibit the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, thus reducing chemical runoff and the pollution of soils and watersheds (Duram). Organic farmers use fertilizers derived from compost created on-site, fish emulsion, and also use natural products and techniques to get rid of weeds and pests such as hand weeding, mulching, tilling, practicing crop rotation, and spraying organic-approved herbicides.
While this decrease in synthetic chemical use benefits the environment compared with industrial agriculture, these methods may not promote long-term sustainability (Duram). A large amount of manure is required to get the same effect as a small number of chemical fertilizers, and therefore the environmental sustainability cost is met by the farmer.
Organic Food and Health
Many people choose to buy organic food in order to avoid artificial chemicals. Organic plants contain fewer nitrates and cadmium, which causes cancer. This is because the exposure to pesticides is minimal in organic foods (Duram). Antibiotics and growth hormones are also not used in organically raised animals; thus, the final product does not give human beings antibiotic resistance. Therefore, organic foods’ target market is health enthusiastic individuals and people with lifestyle diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer.
Organic food is ideal for pregnant women because it does not add stress to an already taxed body. Plus, pesticides can be passed from mother to child in the womb, as well as through breast milk. Children should also consume organic food since exposure to pesticides can harm their immune system, cause developmental delays, create behavioral disorders, and affect brain development giving rise to motor dysfunctions and autism (Lawrence).
Disadvantages of Organic Food
Organic foods are more expensive than their conventional foods counterparts because of their costly certification process. The operational cost of running an organic farm is also high, yet the yields are low compared to conventional farming. What is more, the American government rarely gives subsidies to organic farmers, and this also affects the final pricing
Since organic food is expensive, most of its consumers are known to have a sizeable disposable income (Lawrence). To mitigate against the high cost of organic foods, one can do the following:
- Shop at farmers’ markets. Many cities and small towns host a weekly farmers’ market, where local farmers sell their produce at an open-air street market, often at a discount to grocery stores.
- Buy in season. Fruits and vegetables are the cheapest and freshest when they are in season. Find out when produce is delivered to your market, so you’re buying the freshest food possible.
Just because a product is labeled “organic,” it doesn’t mean that it is healthy. For example, organic cookies, chips, sodas, and ice cream can all be purchased in supermarkets. Despite being organic, these products are still unhealthy. So if you are trying to lose weight or eat healthily, you may be harming yourself by eating these foods.
Brown, M., “What is Organic Food, and is It Better Than Non-Organic?” Healthline, 2016, Web.
Duram, L., “Organic Food | Definition, Policies, & Impacts.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 2021, Web.
Lawrence, R., “Organic Foods: What You Need to Know.” HelpGuide.org, 2020, Web.