Because of its overuse, the best thing to do is first understand what the word “organic” really means when it comes to food. The United States Department of Agriculture states that in order to have the USDA Organic seal on a product, it must*:
1. Be produced without excluded methods (genetic engineering), ionizing radiation, or sewage sludge.
2. Be produced per the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (National List)
3. Be overseen by a USDA National Organic Program-authorized certifying agent, following all USDA Organic regulations
*The three numbered facts above were taken directly from the USDA Website
Now, those three facts were a fancy way of saying that in order to be USDA Organic, a product:
-must not be genetically engineered/genetically modified (GMO)
-it must not go through a process known as ionizing radiation, which is the removal of electrons from a product in order to preserve it and extend shelf life (more information here)
-it must follow regulations regarding the use of substances (chemicals) as mandated by the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (more information here)
-Must be overseen by a USDA National Organic Program authorized certifying agent, following all USDA Organic regulations, meaning that the product must be verified that it meets all criteria in order to receive the USDA Organic seal
If a product is NOT USDA Organic, but claims to be “organic,” it must contain at least 70% certified organic ingredients. If there are no other alternatives, I would purchase one of these products, if I absolutely need it. Otherwise, the USDA Organic seal is what you should be looking for. EVEN if it is in the organic section, or if it is at Whole Foods or an equivalent market, the product is NOT necessarily organic. Check the labels- the USDA seal is usually right on the front of the product:
1. No harmful chemicals or pesticides are allowed to be used on organic produce- no chemicals used on the fruits and vegetables means no extra chemicals are going into your body for no reason. “Yeah, but these chemicals are ‘approved as safe,’ otherwise they wouldn’t be allowed.” False. The United States is one of the few first-world countries that allow chemicals/pesticides that have not been studied for long-term effects.
2. Organic meat, dairy, and eggs all come from animals that were fed organic feed. Also, organic meat/dairy/eggs usually avoid the use of artificial hormones, steroids, or antibiotics- check those labels!!! Did you know that these are used in nearly all conventional meat/dairy/eggs? Whatever the animal ate, you then eat.
3. Organic food has not been altered, genetically or superficially, in any way to be “juicier,” “bigger,” “prettier,” “brighter colored,” “unblemished/no black spots,” “fragrant,” “glossier,” “longer-lasting on the shelf”, or any other qualities that people THINK would be beneficial to their food. These qualities do not occur naturally in nature- something else made it any (or all) of the above. Again, the U.S. is one of the ONLY first-world countries that allow genetically modified/altered/engineered foods to be put on our shelves. Side note: it is estimated that 70-80% of all packaged food in the United States is genetically modified. For more information on genetically modified food (GMOs) click here.
4. When you purchase organic foods, you support farmers who are much friendlier to the environment. Chemicals/pesticides on food=chemicals/pesticides in the land, enabling the cycle of these agents to continue.
5. Organic farmers do not use the chemicals that alter food so that it lasts longer- the longer your food lasts in a truck and then on a shelf, the less nutrition it retains. Organic food is fresher, healthier, and and better for you.
There are more reasons of course, but for me, the above were many of the contributing factors that led to my decision to go organic. There are many options out there and you get to decide what is best for you and your family. If you decide organic foods aren’t for you, my suggestion is still check out labels. Usually the fewer words that you can’t pronounce/don’t know what they are, the better.