Organic Nutrition Labels
What Does the "Organic" Label Really Mean?
Consumers no longer have to play a guessing game when it comes to organic foods. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) now has national standards for the use of the word “organic.” Unlike just a few years ago, consumers buying organic products, whether produced in the United States or imported, can be assured that the foods are produced without antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, irradiation or bioengineering. Organic farmers are required to adhere to certain soil and water conservation methods and to rules about the humane treatment of animals.
The USDA now uses private and state agencies to inspect and certify food companies that market organic foods. Small farmers with less than $5,000 in organic sales, such as those selling at small farmers’ markets, are exempt from the certification process but they still must be truthful in their label claims and comply with the new government standards. Individuals or companies who sell or label a product as organic when they know it does not meet USDA standards, can be fined up to $10,000 for each violation.
Currently, organic foods represent a small part of overall grocery sales in the United States, but the market is growing steadily. In 2001, sales of organic foods and beverages exceeded $9 billion. The new regulations are expected to help the organic industry as consumers become more confident in the labeling and as larger corporations enter the organic foods market.
As the new regulations are phased in, it is important to keep in mind that the term “organic” does not necessarily mean “healthier.” The USDA makes no claim that organically produced food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food. Consumers will still need to read nutrition labels and make wise selections to maintain an overall healthy diet. Keep in mind that the words “natural” and “organic” are not interchangeable. Only food labeled “organic” designate that the product meets the new USDA organic standards.
Organic foods: Are they safer? More nutritious ?
Learn the difference between organic foods and their traditionally grown counterparts. Decide which is best for you, considering nutrition, quality, taste, cost and other factors.
Conventional vs. organic farming
The word "organic" refers to the way farmers grow and process agricultural products, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products and meat. Organic farming practices are designed to encourage soil and water conservation and reduce pollution. Farmers who grow organic produce and meat don't use conventional methods to fertilize, control weeds or prevent livestock disease. For example, rather than using chemical weedkillers, organic farmers conduct sophisticated crop rotations and spread mulch or manure to keep weeds at bay.
Here are other differences between conventional farming and organic farming:
|Apply chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth.
||Apply natural fertilizers, such as manure or compost, to feed soil and plants.
|Spray insecticides to reduce pests and disease.
||Use beneficial insects and birds, mating disruption or traps to reduce pests and disease.
|Use chemical herbicides to manage weeds.
||Rotate crops, till, hand weed or mulch to manage weeds.
|Give animals antibiotics, growth hormones and medications to prevent disease and spur growth.
||Give animals organic feed and allow them access to the outdoors. Use preventive measures — such as rotational grazing, a balanced diet and clean housing — to help minimize disease.