Did you know that products have to meet and maintain specific requirements in order to be labeled “organic”? What are those requirements, and why do they matter?
According to Helpguide.org, “Organic refers to the way the agricultural products are grown and processed. Organic crops must be grown in safe soil, have no modifications, and must remain separate from conventional products. Farmers are not allowed to use synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes [genetically modified organisms or GSOs], petroleum-based fertilizers, and sewage sludge-based fertilizers.” Additionally, organic livestock has specific requirements: Animals must have access to the outdoors, be given organic feed, and be free of antibiotics and hormones.
This week’s Be Better Challenge is to buy and eat organic, but you have to be clear about what that means. This week's Advanced change is to support a Farm-to-Table restaurant.
Before you go grocery shopping, understand what you are buying. Some of the food industry uses the term “organic” or “all natural” even when the products fail to meet organic requirements. According to Helpquide.org, “When you’re shopping for organic foods in the U.S., look for the ‘USDA Organic’ seal. Only foods that are 95 to 100 percent organic can use the USDA Organic label.” According to How Things Work, the USDA certified seal on their goods means that farmers submit to periodic inspections, maintain accurate records and meet a number of other rigorous standards
• 100% Organic – Foods that are completely organic or made with 100% organic ingredients may display the USDA seal.
• Organic – Foods that contain at least 95% organic ingredients may display the USDA seal.
• Made with organic ingredients – Foods that contain at least 70% organic ingredients will not display the USDA seal but may list specific organic ingredients on the front of the package.
• Contains organic ingredients – Foods that contain less than 70% organic ingredients will not display the USDA seal but may list specific organic ingredients on the information panel of the package.
You can also use the Price Code (PLU) as a helpful reference.
The price code label will tell you if a food is genetically modified or organic. When plants or animals are genetically modified, their DNA has been altered. Look at the Price Code (PLU).
If the price code is 4 digits, the produce was conventionally grown.
If the price code is 5 digits and starts with the number 9, then it’s organic.
If the price code is 5 digits and starts with the number 8, then it’s genetically modified.
Budgeting for Organic
We all know that buying organic costs more, but how much? The USDA estimates that organically produced food can cost anywhere from 10 percent to 30 percent more than conventionally mass-produced food. Is it worth it? Yes! If you don’t buy only organic food, then pay attention to the foods that have the most pesticides, known as the “dirty dozen.” Items on this list include apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, sweet bell peppers, imported nectarines, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas and potatoes.
According to the Environmental Working Group, there is also something called the EWG's Clean Fifteen™ for 2014—the produce least likely to hold pesticide residue. On that list are avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwis, eggplant, grapefruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower and sweet potatoes.
Foodmatters.tv provides us with 10 helpful tips for buying organic food on a budget. Our favorite suggestions are shopping at farmers’ markets and buying produce in season.
4 reasons why buying and eating organic is beneficial
1. Organic produce contains fewer pesticides. Pesticides are widely used in conventional agriculture, and residues remain on (and in) the food we eat. Children and pregnant women are more vulnerable to exposure to pesticides.
2. Organic food tastes better. Fresh food tastes better.
3. Organic farming is better for the environment. The practice of organic farming reduces air, water and soil pollution. Environmentally, it helps conserve water, reduces soil erosion, increases soil fertility, and uses less energy. Also, farming without pesticides is better for the animals, as well as the people who harvest our food.
4. Organically raised animals are not given antibiotics or growth hormones, and are not fed animal byproducts. These hormones have been proved to disrupt human hormone balance, which can affect the reproductive system and many other functions of the human body. The use of antibiotics in conventional meat production helps create antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. This means that when someone gets sick from these strains, the bacteria are less responsive to antibiotic treatment.
In order to feel and be BETTER, while buying meat and produce this week, look for the “USDA Organic” seal. Eating better food with make your body and mind feel better.
More organic food resources:
Slow Food USA. Slow Food USA is working to change the food system through a network of volunteer chapters all over the country. Find a chapter near you! www.slowfoodusa.org
Foodies Can Eclipse (and Save) the Green Movement, Time Magazine