Organic food versus non-organic foods has become a really popular topic these days. Should you spend the extra money on organic? What’s the difference between labels that say “natural” or “organic”? How is organic produce regulated? It can be a complicated maze to sort out what’s hype, what’s profit-based and if there’s a balance somewhere in between.
Natural vs. Organic
We’ve all seen labels that say “100% natural” or “organic.” What do these terms really mean and who regulates them?
Natural – The term “natural,” “100% natural,” or “all natural ingredients” doesn’t mean a whole lot. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers “natural” to mean that the food doesn’t contain added colors, artificial flavors or synthetic substances, but there’s quite a bit of wiggle room and loopholes that can make their way into these products. There’s no hard and fast definition to this term nor are there detailed restrictions for food manufacturers to abide by.
“At present, the word ‘natural’ in food marketing is meaningless, and that’s the way food companies want it,” says Gary Ruskin, executive director of U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit organization that promotes transparency within the food industry. Ruskin told U.S. News and World Report that, “It’s a swindle. It’s a scam. It’s a term crafty marketers use to make you buy something.”
Organic – Organic, on the other hand, is strictly regulated and has to meet distinct standards set by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). According to the USDA, anything labeled “organic” or “USDA Organic” must be:
- produced without excluded methods (e.g., genetic engineering), ionizing radiation, or sewage sludge
- produced per the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (National List)
- overseen by a USDA National Organic Program- authorized certifying agent, following all USDA organic regulations
However, 100% of a product doesn’t have to be organic to get this label. If the product contains at least 70% certified organic content (excluding salt and water) AND is overseen by a certifying agent, then the package can have an “organic” label.
Benefits of Organic Food
If you’re still on the fence about whether or not you should invest time and money on your grocery shopping outings to purchase only organic items, here is a little “food for thought” (sorry, I couldn’t help myself):
1/ Cut Out the Crap
It’s common practice to raise foods that are genetically modified, laced with poisonous pesticides and fertilized with unpronounceable chemicals. In fact, studies have shown that pesticides increase the risk of certain cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma, brain tumors, breast cancer and prostate cancer. Additionally, “children and fetuses are most vulnerable to pesticide exposure because their immune systems, bodies, and brains are still developing. Exposure at an early age may cause developmental delays, behavioral disorders, autism, immune system harm, and motor dysfunction,” warns HelpGuide.org.
What’s equally frightening is that we don’t even know the full effects of GMO (genetically modified organism) foods. For example, The Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT) found that GMO foods are negatively impacting the bacteria in the gut which is affecting 18 million people who have gluten allergies. This is just one study, but the full repercussions are even bigger than that.
GMO foods are commonplace and the damage they are having on our bodies and the environment are still unknown as patents are continually submitted for bigger and better GM foods. GMO Inside sites this problem: “In 2003, a Bt-toxin-resistant caterpillar-cum-moth, Helicoverpa zea, is found feasting on GMO Bt cotton crops in the southern United States. In less than a decade, the bugs have adapted to the genetically engineered toxin produced by the modified plants.” As insects and weeds create resistance to genetically altered pesticides and weed killers, the chemicals are getting more complex. Who knows how this will affect our immune systems, fertility, digestion, energy levels, and more?
2/ Local Freshness, Local Economy
Non-organic produce many times has to travel long distances across state or even country lines. Because of this journey, the product is picked before it’s ripe and is genetically modified to last until it reaches it’s destination. Organic vegetables and fruits have to be sold close to the source because they won’t last as long (which is why produce was tampered with in the first place). Fresh, organic food tastes better, retains more nutrients and supports the local economy since it’s grown locally.
3/ Budget Friendly
If you compare prices as you shop, it’s clear to see that organic usually costs more. However, it’s estimated that Americans throw out approximately 31 million tons of food each year which equals to about $400 per person. If we just bought what we were able to eat, the small mark-up on organic foods would be a non-issue.
Better yet, growing your own organic food with ROOT’s hydroponic garden can save you time, money and worry. You can harvest your favorite organic vegetables and herbs right from your countertop without hurried trips to the grocery store, your produce will last longer since you choose when to pick it and you never have to worry about dangerous chemicals or GMO foods harming your family. It’s time we took control over what we put into our bodies, and ROOT gives you an easy way to eat healthier.