Knowing the difference between organic and conventionally grown foods can be confusing. Both organic and conventional foods provide vitamins, minerals, fiber, along with being low in sodium and essentially fat free and contain no cholesterol. But are organic foods more nutritious, safer or better for you? Understanding the true meaning of organic may provide more confidence during your next shopping trip.
In order for a food product to be labeled organic, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has prepared a very strict certification program for food growers and manufacturers to follow. These guidelines reference how food is grown, handled and processed in order to acquire the USDA organic seal.
Traditional foods use chemical fertilizers to stimulate and promote plant growth, insecticides to help reduce pests and diseases, and herbicides for weed management.
Organic foods use a chemical-free approach. Organic farming includes natural fertilizers in the form of manure or compost to promote soil nutrition, plant vigor and growth. The encouragement and use of beneficial insects and birds aid with pest and disease management. Other common practices include trapping, conducting crop rotation, and rotational grazing. Hand weeding and the use of mulch aid with weed management.
Organic meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products require that animals be antibiotic- and hormone-free. Meat animals and poultry are fed a balanced diet of organic food, allowed access to the outdoors, and are provided clean housing.
There are three levels of organic labeling:
- 100-percent organic. In order for the USDA organic seal to be placed on a food item, it must be made of only organic ingredients.
- Organic. At least 95 percent of the product must be of organic origin, and comply with USDA guidelines.
- Made with Organic Ingredients. 70 percent to 94 percent of the ingredients must be organic. There is no USDA organic seal; however the manufacturer may opt to state on the package, made with organic ingredients.
Whether or not you choose organic, it is important to include a wide variety of foods in your daily eating routine to help ensure good nutrition.
For more information on organic foods, visit the USDA’s National Agricultural Library Alternative Farming Systems Information site, the National Organic Program or contact The Corvallis Clinic Nutrition Services Department at 541-754-1370.