By Judy Caplan
Even with the increased desire for healthier food and the push for more local and organic products, many of us still don’t really know what the term “organic” really means. Here is the official word from the USDA:
“What Does the “Organic” Label Really Mean?
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) now has national standards for the use of the word “organic.” Consumers buying organic products, whether produced in the United States or imported, can be assured that the foods are produced without antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, irradiation or bioengineering. Organic farmers are required to adhere to certain soil and water conservation methods and to rules about the humane treatment of animals.
It is important to keep in mind that the term “organic” does not necessarily mean “healthier.” The USDA makes no claim that organically produced food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food. Consumers will still need to read nutrition labels and make wise selections to maintain an overall healthy diet. Keep in mind that the words “natural” and “organic” are not interchangeable. Only food labeled “organic” designate that the product meets the new USDA organic standards.
Conventional vs. organic farming:
The word “organic” refers to the way farmers grow and process agricultural products, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products and meat. Organic farming practices are designed to encourage soil and water conservation and reduce pollution. Farmers who grow organic produce and meat don’t use conventional methods to fertilize, control weeds or prevent livestock disease. For example, rather than using chemical weed killers, organic farmers conduct sophisticated crop rotations and spread mulch or manure to keep weeds at bay.
Here are other differences between conventional farming and organic farming:
If a food bears a USDA Organic label, it means it’s produced and processed according to the USDA standards and that at least 95 percent of the food’s ingredients are organically produced. The seal is voluntary, but many organic producers use it.
Products that are completely organic – such as fruits, vegetables, eggs or other single-ingredient foods – are labeled 100 percent organic and can carry a small USDA seal. Foods that have more than one ingredient, such as breakfast cereal, can use the USDA organic seal or the following wording on their package labels, depending on the number of organic ingredients:
•100 percent organic- Products that are completely organic or made of all organic ingredients.
•Organic- Products that are at least 95 percent organic.
•Made with organic ingredients- These are products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients. The organic seal can’t be used on these packages.
Foods containing less than 70 percent organic ingredients can’t use the organic seal or the word “organic” on their product label. They can include the organic items in their ingredient list, however.
You may see other terms on food labels, such as “all-natural,” “free-range” or “hormone-free.” These descriptions may be important to you, but don’t confuse them with the term “organic.” Only those foods that are grown and processed according to USDA organic standards can be labeled organic.
Products certified 95 percent or more organic display this USDA sticker.”
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