By Lindsey Shay | Contributor
What Are “Organic” Foods?
“Organic” refers to the way in which farmers grow agricultural products. Organic farming practices are meant to improve soil and water quality, decrease pollution, provide safer and healthier environments for livestock, and promote a self-sustaining cycle of resources on a farm. This means that there are certain materials and methods that are not allowed in organic farming practices, including adding artificial nutrients to the soil, using radiation to preserve food or rid of diseases and pests, using genetic technology to change the genetic makeup of crops, or using antibiotics or growth hormones for livestock. Organic farming practices can include feeding livestock organic food, plant rotation to keep soil quality, using plant waste or compost to improve soil quality, and more.
How Do I Know if a Product is Organic?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a certification program that requires all organic food to meet strict standards set forth by the government. These standards cover and control how the product is handled, grown, and processed. Any product labeled as organic must be certified by the USDA and have the USDA Organic Seal.
Are Organic Foods Safer or More Nutritious?
Research has proven possible health benefits of organic foods when compared to conventional foods. Potential benefits include increased nutrients, such as antioxidants, higher levels of Omega-3’s, which are healthier than other types of fats (these are found in organic meats, dairy, and eggs), lower levels of cadmium, a toxic metal used in conventional methods, lower levels of pesticide residue, and lower amounts of bacteria than is found in conventional foods. As an added benefit, organic farming uses less chemicals, which helps protect the environment from pollution and contamination of nearby bodies of water.
Why Are Organic Foods More Expensive?
There are many reasons that organic foods can cost more than conventional foods. First, the time requirements. Organic farmers spend a lot more time on their crops than conventional farmers. Second, getting certified as organic by the USDA is expensive, just the application cost alone, never mind the supplemental costs such as renewal, education, organic seeds, and special equipment required. Next, organic farms are smaller scale, receiving less benefits from the economy and having to produce smaller quantities at one time. Furthermore, the less costly synthetics used in conventional foods to add taste and preservatives aren’t allowed in organic farming. Buying organic can also support your local economy by supporting the local farmers and their organic farms.
Food Safety Tips
Organic or conventional – it is important to keep some things in mind when grocery shopping:
- Buy in-season fruits and vegetables – the easiest way to do this is at your local farmer’s market. In-season produce will be the freshest and most nutrient-dense.
- Wash and scrub fruits and vegetables before consuming – washing, with water or a fruit and veggie rinse, will help remove dirt, germs, and other residues from the produce’s surface.
- Buy a variety of foods from an abundance of sources – variation allows you to consume a better variety of nutrients and lowers the chance of exposure to certain pesticides.
- Read the label – organic doesn’t always mean healthier. Organic products can still be high in salt, sugar, fat, and calories.