Buying organic is becoming more and more popular as some worry about the health and safety of the foods they eat. But what does it mean for a food to be organic?
According to the National Organic Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.
Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewer sludge, bioengineering or ionizing radiation.
“For a food to be certified as organic, the product must come from a farm and processing plant that is certified as organic,” says Carla Haley, Miller County Extension agent with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.
“This means they go through an inspection process from certified government officials that ensure organic farms are up to the USDA organic standards,” she says.
It’s the responsibility of the inspectors to assure that only organic methods are used and that there is no impact on the environment, such as contamination from pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or other non-organic compounds.
Just as food labels must meet standards to say that they are “heart healthy,” organic foods must meet standards to make the claim that they are organic. The labeling requirements are based on the percentage of organic ingredients in a product.
Haley says the following definitions and facts can help you understand organic food labels better:
–Agricultural products labeled “100 percent organic” must contain all organically grown ingredients and processing aids.
–Products labeled “organic” must contain at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients, except for added water and salt.
–The USDA seal and the seal or mark of approval involved in certifying agents may appear on product packages and in advertisements.
–Agricultural products labeled “100 percent organic” and “organic” can’t be produced using excluded methods, sewage sludge or ionizing radiation.
–If buying processed products labeled “Made with Organic Ingredients,” these products need to contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients, and list up to three organic ingredients or food groups on the principal display panel.
–Processed products that “contain less than 70 percent organic ingredients,” can’t use the term organic anywhere on the principal display panel. However, they may identify specific ingredients that are organically produced on the ingredients statement.
Are organic foods better for you than non-organic foods?
“The verdict is still out on that,” Haley says. “Some will say yes; others will say no.
One point to consider is that organic products aren’t more nutritious than conventionally grown foods. If you compare an organic apple versus a conventional apple, you would receive the same vitamins in the same amounts.”
The drawback for many with organic products is cost, she notes. They’re more expensive to grow than conventionally grown foods and that cost shows up in higher prices at the grocery store.
For more information about food and nutrition, contact your county Extension agent or visit www.uaex.edu and select Health and Nutrition. The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the U of A Division of Agriculture.