You'd have to live under a rock to not notice the increased amounts of organic products on the market these days, taking up shelve space everywhere from the grocery store to the make up counter at the pharmacy. When we see these products, we assume they are healthy, natural and good for the environment. But is that the whole story? What does organic really mean? To get to the bottom of what buying organic means for your body and the planet, lets look at the facts.
The Definition of OrganicOrganic products are grown without the use of synthetic chemical additives. This includes pesticides, fertilizers, genetically modified organisms (GMOS) and antibiotics or growth hormones for livestock. Since 2001, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has put forth a set of standards that define and regulate the way that the term organic is used and what products qualify. There are different levels of organic certification that change how a product can be advertised:
- 100 percent organic: Products are made from all organic ingredients.
- Organic: Products are at least 95% organic.
- Made With Organic Ingredients: Products contain at least 70% organic ingredients
- If a product uses less than 70% organic ingredients, it is forbidden by USDA law from having the term organic on its label.
Do 'Organic' and 'Natural' Mean the Same Thing?Although 'natural and 'organic' are often used interchangeably, they aren't equivalent. Organic is a regulated term. 'Natural' is unregulated and can be used to refer to any product. There is no standard or accreditation required to call your foods or drinks natural. "Organic" is an accreditation the USDA administers to food growers and manufacturers that holds them to a rigorous standard.
What Does Organic Mean "in the Field?"Organically grown products are cultivated through the use of farming practices that preserve, protect and sustain the natural environment. Conventional farms rely on unsustainable “off-farm inputs” like chemical fertilizers and pesticides to grow their crops, which depletes the natural vitality of soil and makes the farm dependent on an ever-increasing arsenal of chemicals that often pollute the local ecosystem or run into nearby water sources. In contrast, organic farming techniques strive to build up the quality and fertility of the land with what's naturally available. This involves making compost out of animal manure, rotating crops to improve soil structure, and utilizing essential oils for pesticides. When done right, organic farming enhances the environment around it by increasing biologic diversity and strengthening natural systems.
To be organic, farms follow the following practices:
- Crops are produced without the use of synthetic pesticides.
- The land has defined boundaries and buffer zones to prevent it from being contaminated by the chemicals from nearby commercial farms.
- Soil fertility is managed through natural methods to increase nutrient levels, minimize erosion and prevent contamination by heavy metals.
- No antibiotics or synthetic growth hormones given to livestock.
- No use of of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in pesticides or crops.
What Does Organic Mean for Your Health?Because of their amended processing, organic foods are often said to be safer and more nutritious than conventional foods. We eat what our food eats, which is why crops grown in nutritionally-rich organic soil have a broader range of nutritional benefits for our bodies. By not relying on chemical pesticide sprays to protect themselves, plants have to produce their own protective chemicals called antioxidants. Studies have found that organic moods contain higher levels of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and that organically grown fruit can contain over 50% more vitamin C per serving. Choosing to eat organic foods also reduces your exposure to the toxins and pesticides used for conventional products.
- Synthetic Pesticides: There are hundreds of synthetic chemicals used in pesticides today, and dozens of them have classified as potential carcinogens. Eating organic foods reduces your exposure to these cancer-causing agents.
- Heavy metals: Industrial pollution of soil and ground water through conventional agriculture can leach toxic metals like cadmium, mercury and lead into the water system, which can increase the risk of cancer in people who come in contact with it.