Ten years ago, hardly anyone knew of organic food. However, slowly the buying public started to believe that organic foods were healthier for you, better tasting and better for the world. Back then, there was no regulation around the term “organic,” forcing the USDA to step in and codify what it meant.
Now, in 2013, there is strong demand for organic foods with equally strong prices to go along with it, even as conflicting reports arise as to how good organic foods really are. This means that the organic food movement still has several challenges ahead of it, but fortunately, there are many good reasons to go organic, too.
Food labeling and marketing
The good news for organic food lovers is that the USDA has come out with labeling on what, exactly, is and is not organic. “Organic” is now defined as a series of growing practices that use absolutely no chemical fertilizers, synthetic compounds, antibiotics and hormones. To be labeled as organic, a product must use 0 percent of these compounds or be made up of ingredients that don’t use them.
That’s good. It used to be organic had no restrictions and individuals were duped into thinking they were eating healthy because of misleading labeling. Sadly, though, the confusion continues because of the term “all natural.” There continues to be no regulation around this phrase, which is a problem because it can easily be confused with organic, which is an actual term denoting something made only from natural processes.
Suffice it to say that a brand like 7UP can label itself “all natural” for any reason it wants because there is no law against it. However, it cannot call itself organic because it does not use only organic ingredients.
Is organic better for you?
When organic products burst on the scene, eating organic was supposed to be the food-based cure for every physical, societal and environmental ill. In recent years, these claims have come under scrutiny.
One of the most common claims is that organic food is more nutritious than non-organic. However, the Mayo Clinic cites a study looking at 50 years of data and finds the research inconclusive as to whether this is true or not. There are also claims that organic food is safer, though this is not always the case, either. For instance, organic chicken is found to have just as much, or more, exposure to foodborne illness than conventional.
There are also claims that organic food tastes better than conventional, however, this is, in many ways, a matter of taste. Organic farms tend to be small (and oftentimes closer to the consumer) than large commercial operations, which can lead to better products, but that doesn’t guarantee it.
What is true is that organic food is lower in hormones, pesticides and unnatural chemicals. Because these products are not used in the production of the food, they are not nearly as concentrated in what you eat. Of course, there are always concerns about contamination, but organic food has less of stuff you don’t really want to be eating.
The reduced usage of pesticides, herbicides, etc., also tends to be a net boon to the environment in terms of fruit and vegetables. However, organic doesn’t necessarily mean a reduced carbon footprint in creating the food, nor does it prevent organically raised animals from being processed in environmentally-unsafe feeding lots.
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Organic sticker shock
The cost of organics is perhaps the biggest continuing drawback to consumers. The increased demand for organics has outpaced the increased supply and consumers are willing to pay high prices for organic food. All of this means that the cost of organics isn’t going to go down any time soon.
Is this a problem? The rising cost of food is generally a concern, but the bigger issue goes back to whether organic is truly better for you. If you find organic and conventional to be roughly the same, then you are paying extra for little to no gain.
What truly matters to you
At the end of the day, organics come down to a personal decision. If you can afford the price of organic food, it’s definitely worth avoiding the hormones and pesticides. If you can’t always buy it, you might want to avoid foods grown in the ground as they can be very high in pesticides and not feel guilty if you buy other foods have non-organic chemicals.
Therefore, the choice is yours. The most important thing is that you make an educated, well-reasoned food decision.