What The Label (Says)
The term “organic” can be confusing for some, especially when companies start adding labels such as “Organic” or “100% Organic” or even “Made with organic ingredients.” Do all of these mean something different? Why not just slap a sticker on the product in the supermarket and say “organic” and be done with it? I thought organic was organic, and that organic meant, “more expensive but less appealing to the eye.”
As it happens, the term organic means much more than the later. Organic farmers pride themselves on the seal of approval to claim their produce as “Organic.” This seal is the Certified Organic Seal that conveys to the consumer that the grower/farmer has gone through inspection by an accredited agency of the USDA and has passed all production standards set by the USDA’s National Organic Program. You might find yourself in the supermarket wondering what the sticker with the number code means on your hand selected apple or pear. If it is organic, This PLU (product Look-Up) code typically has a number (9) in front of the next four numbers .
The Terms Explained
- 100% organic– This means just that. This food product is 100% organic or contains 100% organic ingredients. This food also has the Certified Organic Seal on the label.
- Organic– This means the food contains 95-99% organic ingredients.This food also has the Certified Organic Seal on the label.
- Made with organic ingredients– This food item contains 74-94% organic ingredients and can list up to 3 such ingredients on the front of the packaging. This food is not qualified to have the Certified Organic Seal on the label.
- Any food that contains at least one organic ingredient but less than 74% can list these organic ingredients only on the back label.
What The Label (Means)
So back to the seal of certified organic and what it means. These farmers have willingly gone through inspection and documentation of everything they did while growing the produce to prove their outcome is truly what they claim it is. This means..
“They did not use any synthetic pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers; they did not plant genetically modified seeds, use fertilizer derived from sewage sludge, or treat the seeds or foods with irradiation.” -“What To Eat” by Marion Nestle
In comparison, the conventionally grown produce goes through no such vigorous inspection. Conventional farming uses pesticides, genetically modified seeds and fertilizers that are chemically engineered for a larger yield. These pesticides have the primary purpose of killing insects but the long term effects of the poisonous residues in a human body are still unknown. When pesticides are used during the cultivating and farming process, it leaches into the soil and accumulates for years. This leaching causes the soil to contain less nutrients and minerals, thus giving the fruits and vegetables produced on the soil less minerals. The mineral composition ultimately comes from the soil, if the soil is mineral dense (like that of organic farming) the produce will have more minerals and vis-a-versa. Furthermore, the pesticides only kill insects not the harmful bacteria or viruses the insects may leave on the produce. If pesticides were truly harmless for human consumption, there would be no reason to regulate the usage. Pesticide regulation is real, and it’s only because there is a real danger to our health. Because the USDA’s first priority from congress is to promote conventional agriculture and reassure their consumers that conventional is just as good if not better than organic produce they state,
“USDA makes no claims that organically produced food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food. Organic food differs from conventionally grown food in the way it is grown, handled, and processed.” -USDA
I just chuckle to myself.
The Difference It Makes
Now you’re asking the question, “What difference does it truly make?”
In terms of productivity, the answer is not so clear. The product yield of organic produce is obviously smaller than conventional farming because it does not use the pesticides and or chemical fertilizers. However, the loss in yield is made up by lower fuel costs and better sustained soil. The cultivation process of organic produce leaves the earth in better shape, giving nutrients back to the soil and the ability to produce more for less amount of energy.
In terms of pesticides, It makes all the sense in the world. I already touched on the subject that these pesticides have unknown long term effects via human consumption. They kill insects but leave bacteria, it does not sound like something I want to put in MY body or my husbands for that matter. Although organic food is priced higher, and may not look eye appealing, it is sure to be safer.
In terms of minerals, it’s all about the soil. I mentioned above that the mineral rich soil will produce a mineral dense product. Unlike conventional farmers who use pesticides, organic farmers do not. The soil that is used farming season after farming season has been left with healthy sustained minerals that have not been leached with pesticides or other chemicals. Anything that is grown in mineral rich soil = mineral dense product.
In terms of nutrients, this is harder to analyze. It is amazing to me how little research is out there about the difference in nutritional value organic versus conventional holds. This is largely to do with the fact that is it near impossible to set up a controlled study with say organic oranges versus conventional oranges. That would mean the same orange seeds would need to be cultivated and grown in the exact same climate and geographical conditions, with the only exception being the soil, chemicals and pesticides. After ripening, they will need to be picked at the exact same moment and analyzed for nutrient composition. The nutrient composition will have a slight difference but not significantly enough that one organic orange will prevent a certain disease. Each fruit or vegetable varies in nutrient composition whether its organic or conventional. An orange might have more vitamin C but spinach might have more folate. The difference between organic and conventional in terms of nutrients is not enough to overcome the importance of eating a variety of fruits and vegetables collectively.
With this being said, the reason to buy organic versus conventional is not about it’s nutrient composition. It is instead about the practice of organic farming and the support we should be giving to the local and or organic farmers. The practice of sustainable energy, giving minerals back to the soil, producing fruits and vegetables that are safe to give our families. Knowing how our food was produced, without the harmful pesticides, chemicals and genetically modified seeds. Let’s raise a toast to the organic farmers out there, the ones who will not give up on natural food.
“What To Eat” -Marion Nestle
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
All photos used in this article were taken by Stephanie Rackley for and by The Healthy Chew
-all rights reserved
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