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8 Things You Should Know About Organics

Cecilia Estreich Oct 10 , 2016

1.   What are the USDA organic certification requirements for farmers?
 
Produce:
No use of synthetic chemical fertilizer or pesticide
No genetically modified seed
No use of ionizing radiation
Farmland must be free of prohibited chemical input for a certain number of years
Farm must submit to regular inspections
 
Livestock:
No use of antibiotics or growth hormones
Livestock must consume organically grown feed only
Living conditions that “accommodate natural behavior and health of the animal”
Must submit to regular inspections
 
2.   Are the certification requirements different for food products?
Yes.  For food producers, there are a few tiers that may cause confusion if you don’t know what’s up.
 
100% Organic: Just what it sounds like—made with only organic ingredients.
 
Organic: A little deceptive—made with at least 95% organic ingredients.
 
Made With Organic Ingredients:  This one is tricky—products with this label need a minimum of 70% organic ingredients.
 
Anything with less than 70% organic ingredients may list organic ingredients on the side of the package, but cannot make any organic claims on the front of the package.
 
3.   Cost of Certification
Growers often choose to forgo a USDA organic certification due to the associated costs. According to the USDA website, an application to be certified will set you back a few hundred dollars.  But, this number varies widely and can cost thousands of dollars in some cases.  After certification, farmers can expect to pay for assessments, inspections and even travel costs for the certifying agent on annual basis.  There are also ongoing renewal fees. 
 
4.   Do “natural” and “organic” mean the same thing?
No!  Don’t fall for this marketing trap.  While the terms seem interchangeable, they aren’t.  Claims like “all natural”, “natural” and “hormone free” live in a gray area that is not regulated by the USDA.
 
5.   Is organic food more nutritious?
Depends who you ask.  According to the Mayo Clinic, scientific research has uncovered very little evidence to support the claim that organic foods are significantly more nutritious.  But comparing nutritional content may be something of a red herring—supporters often argue that the health benefits of eating organic come from avoidance of pesticides and other chemical additives.  Eating organic also diminishes health risks connected to the overuse of antibiotics in livestock.
 
6.   Is organic food safer?
Not necessarily.  As organic food production increases, so do recalls for bacterial contamination. 
 
7.   If I’m worried about pesticides, can’t I just wash them off my fruits and vegetables?
Surprisingly, tap water will rinse away a significant amount of pesticide reside.  But, it is impossible to eliminate the residue completely. 
 
8.   Is organic farming better for the environment?
The science is stronger on the environmental benefits of organic farming.  Organic farming dramatically reduces the amount of toxic runoff produced as a consequence of large scale agriculture.  It also improves soil quality and prevents erosion of topsoil. 
 
The Bottom Line:
Organic food is big business and sales keep on growing. Be skeptical of organic claims on packaged foods. While organic food may not have outsized health benefits, the environmental advantages of organic farming are still a persuasive reason to support the movement.

 

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