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How to decipher ‘organic’ labels on foods
November 21, 2012 - Anita Hanaburgh
By ANITA HANABURGH
Around our family table of vegans and carnivores, the conversation often centers on food, fat content, good health, etc. My husband, who grew up on a farm, recently stated, “Just think about my parents. They ate real butter and whole milk every day. We had beef or venison or pork for supper every night. And my dad’s almost 90.”
I then added, “And everything they ate was organic.”
“Oh, Grandma,” my Chloe interrupts, “They didn’t have organic way back then!”
But, Chloe, that was what they had.
According to Center for Science in the Public Interest, sales of organic foods are growing by 10 percent to 20 percent each year in the United States. More than 10 percent of the fruits and vegetables sold are now organic. Organic foods have entered the mainstream American diet. Restaurants are now labeling many food items with the term “organic.” The customers want organic.
So just what does “organic” mean? Organic is a strict label provided by theUnited States Department of Agriculture. It basically means the item is free of harmful ingredients, has not been tampered with or exposed to dangerous growing methods. It also insures the product or animal is able to live and grow in a natural environment, i.e., in the field.
The USDA allows a food to be labeled “organic” only if it is part of a certification program that requires inspections of the growth and distribution methods used. People who sell or label a product “organic” when they know it does not meet USDA standards can be fined up to $11,000 for each violation.
To be labeled organic, a product must meet the following standards:
Organic fruits, nuts, vegetables and grains have been grown with no synthetic pesticides, no synthetic fertilizers, have not been irradiated, genetically engineered and are free from exposure to sewage sludge.
For organic meat and poultry, the animals have had access to the outdoors, have not been “beefed up” with growth hormones or other drugs, are raised on 100 percent organic feed and have not been irradiated or fed animal byproducts.
Organic eggs are from hens that have received 100 percnt organic feed and have not been injected with growth hormone or other drugs. They are not necessarily from cage-free or free-range chickens.
Organic milk is from cows that have had access to outdoors, have not been injected with growth hormones or other drugs, have been fed 100 percent organic feed for the last 12 months and receive at least 30 percent of their diet from pastures during growing season.
Packaged food called “organic” contains 95 percent organic ingredients. “100 percent organic” means just that. “Made with organic ingredients” means it has to have 70 percent or more organic ingredients.
Note there is no current official U.S. standard for organic seafood, and the USDA is working on a standard for farm-raised seafood. Please note the overuse of the word “Natural.” Natural means the item contains no artificial ingredients or added colors and is minimally processed. It does not mean it is organic or raised in any particular way. It could be caged or injected with natural flavors. Also “natural” means nothing if it is a labeled on produce or packaged foods.
Why is organic food popular? Advocates contend it is better to eat organic, based upon keeping chemicals out of the body and enjoying increased nutrients (I’ll serve you that info another day), but the need for organic farming comes from environmental concerns. “We can’t do business as usual,” says Derek Lynch, associate professor at Nova Scotia Agricultural College. “Wecan’t sustain the huge impacts of agriculture on biodiversity and global warming.”
By saturating the Earth with nitrogen fertilizer to boost crop yields, half of it escapes from the soil into groundwater and waterways, where it contaminates water and affects the ecosystem. Pesticide exposure is dangerous to the health and, obviously, affects the local ecology.
Whereas transporting food from farm to fork is one draw on energy costs, producing fertilizer and manufacturing pesticides has an even bigger significant energy footprint.
Oh busboy, is organic the way to go in the future? Personally, I am a believer. I know organic is better. But sometimes it seems like “organic” is being used as a marketing tool and we are ignoring wholesome foods that are just as good and half the price.
I’m a believer who is not entirely convinced of the whole process.
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