Last week, I stood in the produce section of my local grocery store, looking at bananas. I pondered going with the USDA-stamped organic variety for 79 cents a pound or the non-organic for 49 cents a pound. I start thinking about organic milk, apples, lettuce, broccoli, meats, cereals, and even organic potato chips. If I bought organic across the board, I could take my $120 a week grocery bill to almost $200.
Are organic foods really worth the higher price tag? What does organic really mean? Is organic truly safer and more nutritious? What about taste? With these and other questions in mind, I began my research. Here’s what I found.
What does organic mean? The term “organic” refers to the way food is produced. Organic produce is grown without man-made pesticides and fertilizers. Organic farmers use birds, insects and traps to reduce pests and disease. They use natural fertilizers such as compost and manure. To minimize weeds, organic farmers till the soil, mulch and hand-pick weeds.
The term “organic” for animals means they are not given routine antibiotics and growth hormones to prevent disease or spur animal growth and productivity. Organic farmers work to prevent disease and increase productivity by providing animals with a clean environment, more access to outdoors, managed grazing and a balanced diet.
Are organic foods safer and more nutritious? According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), there is no conclusive evidence that organic foods are safer or more nutritious than non-organic. Most experts agree the very small quantities of fertilizers and pesticides that may remain on produce do not pose a meaningful health risk. Advocates of organic foods disagree.
Is organic farming better for the environment? Organic farming is designed to conserve water and soil. While those benefits are important, some believe that because organic farming is not as efficient as conventional farming, more land is required to produce the same amount of food. As demand for organic products grows, so will the demand for additional farmland. This may cause further encroachment on land and animals in their natural state.
How do I know if a product is really organic? The USDA strictly manages the labeling of food as organic. Products that are 100% organic such as organic produce and dairy can use the USDA organic label.
Products with multiple ingredients, such as snacks and cereals must have 95 percent organic ingredients to use the organic label.
Products with more than 70 percent organic ingredients can be labeled as “made with organic ingredients.”
Products with less than 70 percent organic ingredients cannot use the word organic in their labeling. They can however call out organic ingredients in the ingredient listing on the package.