In reality, all things containing carbon, including food from living organisms, are organic. However, when we use the term “organic” food, we really mean that foods labeled as such originate from a source containing little or no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides and no antibiotics or hormones. In this sense, the term “organic” is a legal term used to describe the food production process.
Being organic does not necessarily mean that a food is “low-fat” or “nutrient-rich.” As a consumer, it is important to evaluate the different aspects of organic food to determine whether or not it is beneficial to purchase these products. Evaluation includes, but is not limited to, taste and appearance, nutritional content, production methods, and cost.
At this point, there is no consensus as to whether or not organic products are healthier or safer. Research continues to be conducted and the debates waiver on. The evidence available now shows that both the organic and conventional methods for food production offer nutritionally comparable foods.
Contrary to theories, taste and appearance differ little from conventional to organic foods. The main differences regarding taste and appearance are attributed to growing conditions, maturity at harvest, and packaging.
With taste and nutrition aside, organically produced foods often cost more and can be more difficult to find. The high cost of these foods is due in part to the higher cost of production and the smaller crop yields. However, if purchased in season, organic food costs are more comparable to conventionally grown crops.
When it comes to fruits and vegetables, organic farming practices focus on crop rotation, tillage, and cover crops to manage soil and ensure proper plant growth. Farmers are permitted to use organic waste such as manure and compost to fertilize crops.
Natural chemicals in the environment can be used to prevent insects from eating crops. This includes sulfur, nicotine, copper, or pyrethins. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP) has a list of approved substances to be used as pesticides that can use if the naturally occurring chemicals are not affective.
The NOP regulates the certification of organic foods and designates such foods under the USDA’s certified organic label. Organic farming and processing operations must adhere to the guidelines addressed by the NOP to ensure uniformity and consistency of organic products on the market.
Livestock and poultry must adhere to strict guidelines in order to be marketed as “organic”. From the last third of gestation or, for poultry, the second day of life, animals must be fed 100 percent organic feed; they must have outdoor access; and, just as all other animals, they must be humanely treated. Vitamin and mineral supplements are allowed but hormones and antibiotics are not. Animals treated with medication cannot be labeled as organic food.
Given the current research, it is up to the consumer to decide whether or not organic foods are the right choice for them and their family.