There's a lot of confusion out there about the difference between
organic and conventional - organic and natural.
So if you feel lost at times when scouting the aisles of your local supermarket or health food store, confused by all natural, natural and organic labels, you are not alone.
To some, labels guarantee quality. To others, the labels indicate higher prices for seemingly similar foods available at lower costs. Are “natural” and “organic” synonymous with each other? Let’s peel back the labels to find out more.
The U.S. Department of
Agriculture (USDA) - they create the
standards for and oversee regulations on product labeling - has stepped in to protect consumers. for some of us, there is still a long way to go to make sure the consumer is protected. We need more labeling - more guarantees - so we can make educated choices when going food shopping.
Here's a quick run-down on the difference between conventional and organic, natural and organic.
Conventional vs. organic farming
Apply chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth.
Spray insecticides to reduce pests and disease.
Use herbicides to manage weeds.
Give animals antibiotics, growth hormones and medications to prevent disease and spur growth.
Apply natural fertilizers, such as manure or compost, to feed soil and plants.
Use beneficial insects and birds, mating disruption or traps to reduce pests and disease.
Rotate crops, till, hand weed or mulch to manage weeds.
Give animals organic feed and allow them access to the outdoors. Use preventive measures — such as rotational grazing, a balanced diet and clean housing — to help minimize disease.
Natural vs. Organic
- Natural - "Natural," “100% natural” and “all natural ingredients” are unregulated (and misleading). Suppose to mean “fewer” processed ingredients.
Must only meet general controls for food safety. Hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and food additives are still allowed.
- Organic - "Organic" refers to both the processing and production of food.
1) "100% organic" means that the food contains only organic ingredients. They can bear the "USDA Organic" seal.
2) A food labeled "organic" has at least 95% organic ingredients. They can bear the "USDA Organic" seal.
3) "Made with Organic Ingredients" means that a food contains between 70% and 95% organic ingredients and can list up to three of those ingredients as "organic."
4) Any product that contains less than 70% organic ingredients may not be labeled as organic, but its ingredients list on the label can indicate organic ingredients.
Terms like “free range”, no drugs or growth hormones used”, sustainably harvested”, “all natural”, “natural” etc. must be truthful but are not regulated.
Only foods that are grown and processed according to USDA organic standards can be labeled organic.
Organic food: Other considerations
- Pesticides. Conventional growers use pesticides to protect their crops from molds, insects and diseases. When farmers spray pesticides, this can leave residue on produce. Some people buy organic food to limit their exposure to these residues. According to the USDA, organic produce carries significantly fewer pesticide residues than does conventional produce. However, residues on most products — both organic and nonorganic — don't exceed government safety thresholds.
- Food additives. Organic regulations ban or severely restrict the use of food additives, processing aids (substances used during processing, but not added directly to food) and fortifying agents commonly used in nonorganic foods, including preservatives, artificial sweeteners, colorings and flavorings, and monosodium glutamate.
- Environment. Some people buy organic food for environmental reasons. Organic farming practices are designed to benefit the environment by reducing pollution and conserving water and soil quality.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
Because foods containing GMOs don’t need to be labeled as such here in the US, choosing organic products is one of the only ways to ensure that you and your family aren’t eating foods produced with the use of GMOs.
What's the danger?
Although the biotech industry would like us all to believe that genetically modified (also called “genetically-engineered (GE)”) crops are safe to eat, the jury is still out. This is why in Australia, Japan and all the countries of the European Union, there are restrictions and bans on the production of GMOs. These countries’ governments don’t consider the safety of GMOs to be proven.
Several experimental genetically engineered crops have been shown to cause allergic reactions, raising concerns that the introduction of new DNA that happens in genetic engineering may be causing increased allergenicity.
One recent study even found that pesticides engineered into corn plants can survive the digestive process and show up in the umbilical cord blood of pregnant women, raising questions about the toxicity of this GMO to fetuses.
Not only are there potential health risks from eating GMOs, there are environmental impacts and health risks from the production of GMOs. The biggest impact comes from herbicide use, which increased 383 million pounds in the first 13 years of widespread GMO cultivation.
These pesticides impact both the environment and human health. As weeds and insect pests adapt and evolve and learn to evolutionarily outsmart the pesticides used with or in GE crops, farmers are using more toxic pesticides to combat these pests.
The threat to organic.
GE crops also create risk for organic producers, because pollen drift can contaminate organic fields with DNA from GE crops. Right now there is no system in place to prevent this contamination or compensate organic farmers for the losses they face when their crops are contaminated.
GMO foods should be labeled.
According to the USDA, 93% of soybeans and 86% of corn planted in the US in 2010 were GE. This means the majority of non-organic processed foods on the grocery store shelf that contain either corn or soy products contain GMOs.
All GMO foods that are already in our markets should at least be labeled as such, so that shoppers like you can make informed choices about eating these foods.
Go for organic labeled foods or foods carrying the non-GMO project verification seal.