As previously mentioned, I have declared this "the best of" week. So, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday of this week, you will find posts from previous weeks that have been voted the best of Motherly Law. Thanks to all the loyal readers who participated in the survey last week. I really appreciate you taking the time to take the survey. I also value the feedback you all provided through your answers, and am glad that you are enjoying the posts and getting something out of the Motherly Law. The results were close, but according to the people's choice,The Organic, Sustainable, Grass-Fed, All-Natural, Free Range, Fair Trade Grocery List: What Do All These Adjective Mean? is the winner for Monday's post. You will find the other "Best of Motherly Law" choices listed on the left sidebar between Recent Posts and Archives by the end of this week.
If you have already read this post, please take this time to peruse the other topics/posts and read one or two that you may have missed or check out Motherly Reads (right sidebar), my blog roll, and find some other great blogs to read. Remember I love to get comments and feedback! You can find me on Twitter, Facebook and BlogHer besides leaving a comment here or sending me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Without further adieu here is the post:
The Organic, Sustainable, Grass-Fed, All-Natural, Free-Range, Fair Trade Grocery List: What Do All These Adjectives Mean??
When did buying groceries get so complicated? You basically have to have a Ph.D in Food Science and work for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to understand what is meant by all of the labels tossed around these days? My grocery shopping experience goes something like this: "Yes, could I have a pound of the free-range, preservative-free, all-natural turkey breast. And I'll take a ½ pound of the organic, fair trade, sustainable coffee, please. Can you tell me 0n which aisle the all-natural, preservative-free granola bars are located? Oh, are you all out of the hormone-free, locally-produced whole milk? Where is the grass-fed, humanely-treated-until-murdered-to-become-my-dinner beef? The organic, free-range eggs are how much?" I mean, really, does our food have to have this many adjectives? And what does all of this mean anyway?
The thing is, I do care. I do read labels. I happen to be horribly offended by any food with high fructose corn syrup in the list of ingredients! I do not buy anything with that irritatingly, evil ingredient (Please note one exception: Mama's Coke Zero… You know, Mama don't get much sleep!). The part that really bothers me is that it's in EVERYTHING. Alright…I'm exaggerating, but not much! I do buy organic, as much as I can afford; I don't feed my kids hot dogs or other highly processed foods, colored-liquid pretending to be juice; or cookies chock-full of trans fats and other hard-to-pronounce, synthetic ingredients; and I am a bit of a food snob. You might have already guessed that though.
So, every week I go to Target Superstore (preferably without my two Darling Distractions); read the labels; buy about 60% organic; buy nothing made with the afore-mentioned evil ingredient (besides the one noted exception); load up on fruits and veggies; avoid canned items that are BPA-laden; get to the register and spend enough to feed a football team. The up side is that I feel good about the food I feed my family, especially my rapidly-growing, brain-developing kiddos. The frustrating part is that in order to eat well, I spend a lot of hard-earned mullah.
I think it's important to fully comprehend what is meant by these USDA-implemented food adjectives. If you are clear on the official government-regulated definition of organic, fair trade, sustainable, grass-fed, all-natural, free-range products, then you can decide how important each of those items (and the price tags they warrant) is to you and your family.
Breaking Down the Adjectives
In 1990, Congress passed the Organic Food Production Act (OFPA) which required the USDA to develop national standards for organically produced agricultural products to assure consumers that agricultural products marketed as organic meet consistent, uniform standards, whether grown in the U.S. or imported from other countries. There are several overall controlling doctrines governing certified organic farming, including biodiversity, integration, sustainability, natural plant nutrition, natural pest management, and integrity.
Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations.
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 sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.
Before a product can be labeled 'organic,' a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards.
Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too."
However, organic farming means much more than simply avoiding conventional chemicals in fertilizers, etc. or trading natural fertilizers for synthetic ones. Instead, organic farmers focus on tried and true techniques, using farming practices from thousands of years ago.
Organic products will always have the word "organic" on the package or produce sign and/or have the "UDSA Organic" seal on the package or piece of produce. The seal is voluntary though, so packaging or produce signs don't have to have the seal to be certified organic. It's a crime, with a fine of up to $11,000, to sell food labeled as "organic" when the seller knows the product doesn't meet USDA organic standards.
The term "Sustainable" is one that is often used in conjunction with "organic" products. Sustainable agriculture is a way of raising food that is healthy for consumers and animals, does not harm the environment, is humane for workers, respects animals, provides a fair wage to the farmer and supports and enhances rural communities. Sustainable agriculture integrates three main goals--environmental health, economic profitability and social and economic equity. When a process is sustainable, it can be maintained indefinitely because sustainable farmers do not take more resources to produce food than they give back. Sustainable farmers see nature as an ally rather than an obstacle, and are able to produce more wholesome food while using less fossil fuels (thus lessening the impact on global warming), and without using any synthetic pesticides, artificial hormones, or antibiotics. Here are principles sustainable agriculture farmers adhere to:
Conservation and Preservation. What is taken out of the environment is put back in, so land and resources such as water, soil and air can be replenished and are available to future generations. The waste from sustainable farming stays within the farm's ecosystem and cannot cause buildup or pollution. In addition, sustainable agriculture seeks to minimize transportation costs and fossil fuel use, and is as locally-based as possible.
Biodiversity. Farms raise different types of plants and animals, which are rotated around the fields to enrich the soil and help prevent disease and pest outbreaks. Chemical pesticides are used minimally and only when necessary; many sustainable farms do not use any form of chemicals.
Animal Welfare. Animals are treated humanely and with respect and are well cared for. They are permitted to carry out their natural behaviors, such as grazing, rooting or pecking and are fed a natural diet appropriate for their species.
Economically Viable. Farmers are paid a fair wage and are not dependent on subsidies from the government. Sustainable farmers help strengthen rural communities.
Socially Just. Workers are treated fairly and paid competitive wages and benefits. They work in a safe environment and are offered proper living conditions and food.
The confusion with sustainable agriculture is that the definition is more a philosophy or way of life than a strict set of rules, and farmers can interpret the meaning differently. In addition, there is no legal obligation to follow any of the criteria for sustainability, so food can be labeled sustainable when in actuality it isn't. Many terms that describe this type of food, such as natural or cage free, do not have a legal or clear definition (though the USDA is currently working on this). http://www.sustainabletable.org/home.php
It's important to note that "sustainable" and "organic" don't always mean the same thing. For example, an organic tomato might not adhere to sustainable principles if it was grown organically, but then shipped across the country to be sold. And on the flip side, some produce you find at your local farmers' market might not have been grown organically.
The next terms are all related sustainable farming:
Free-Range: In the U.S., USDA regulations apply only to poultry and indicate that the animal has been allowed access to the outside. However, the USDA regulations do not specify the quality or size of the outside range, nor the amount of time the animal must have access to the outside. Although the USDA regulations may not apply, the term free-range can be applied to eggs, meat or dairy farming. In ranching, free-range livestock are permitted to roam without being fenced in, as opposed to fenced-in pastures.
Grass-Fed/Open Pasture: "Grass-fed" on a label signifies that the livestock received a diet of natural forage outdoors, but sometimes cows are fed grass while indoors or in a pen or only for the first few months of their lives. So "grass-fed" could mean "pasture-raised" or "open pasture." Pasture-raised animals roam freely outdoors where they can eat the grasses and other plants that their bodies are best suited to digest. Grass-fed meat is low in both overall fat and artery-clogging saturated fat, and it provides a considerably higher amount of healthy Omega-3 fats than corn-fed meat, and host of other health benefits.
Fair Trade Certified: Fair Trade Certification empowers farmers and farm workers to lift themselves out of poverty by investing in their farms and communities, protecting the environment, and developing the business skills necessary to compete in the global marketplace. Fair Trade is much more than a fair price! Fair Trade principles include:
Fair labor conditions
Democratic and transparent organizations
Fair Trade Certification is currently available in the U.S. for coffee, tea and herbs, cocoa and chocolate, fresh fruit, sugar, rice and vanilla.
100% All Natural
According to the Mintel Global New Products database, which monitors the appearance of new household products, one third of all new U.S. food and beverage products in 2008 highlighted claims of being "natural" or "all natural," or something similar, including "organic," "no additives or preservatives" and "whole grain." The term "Natural" generally refers to food items that are not altered chemically or synthesized in any form. They are products derived from plants and animals. The USDA says those products can be labeled "natural" if they don't contain any artificial ingredients or added color, and are only minimally processed. But if "natural" is used on the label, it must also give an additional explanation, such as "no added colorings or artificial ingredients." When considering purchasing a product with the "Natural" label, keep in mind that there is no "USDA Natural" certification and there is much more wiggle room with this term. Natural does not mean organic, although a certified organic product might also bear the label "Natural." OK, I never claimed this food label system wasn't confusing and mixed up.
Why Does Food with Organic, Sustainable, Natural Labels Cost So Much More?
Organic, sustainable, natural foods simply costs more to produce than conventional foods. Food prices reflect the costs of growing, harvesting, transportation, storage, processing and packaging. To be certified organic, food must meet stricter regulations that govern all these steps in the process. Organic or sustainable food production also means more labor that is management intensive and happens on a smaller scale.
Why Spend the Money for Organic?
While the USDA does not claim that organic foods are safer or more nutritious than those produced conventionally, many people who produce, buy and eat organic foods believe that they are. People are buying more organic foods, with sales rising more than 20% every year in the past decade and the Food Marketing Institute says that more than half of Americans buy organic food at least once a month. Buying organic is a personal decision. I buy organic items when I can and as much as I can afford it. We also shop at our local Farmers' Market from May through October and grow some herbs and vegetables ourselves. Much of it is sustainable, some certified organic, and all very fresh and local.
Do you buy organic? Some? Not at all? Please leave a comment here, on Facebook or Twitter and tell me what your thoughts are regarding Organic, Sustainable, Grass-Fed, Free-Range, Natural and/or Fair Trade foods. On Wednesday, I will post tips on how to save when shopping for organic products, finding a local farmers' market and some related websites. Over and out…
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