(NaturalNews) Organic food is now the fastest growing segment ofU.S. agriculture. In 2007, the value of retail sales from organicfood was estimated at more than $20 billion. According to the FoodMarketing Institute, more than half of Americans now buy someorganic food product at least once a month. The industry isexpected to grow at a rate of 18 percent per year until 2010,making organic food sales one of the fastest growing sectors in thegenerally sagging U.S. |
economy. Cutting organic food from theirbudgets is just not an option for many people who are struggling tomake ends meet. What does it mean to be organic? According to the National Organic Standards Board: "Organic agriculture is an ecological production management systemthat promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soilbiological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputsand on management practices that restore, maintain and enhanceecological harmony.
"The word organic is a labeling term that denotes products producedunder the authority of the Organic Foods Production Act. Theprincipal guidelines for organic production are to use materialsand practices that enhance the ecological balance of naturalsystems and that integrate the parts of the farming system into anecological whole. "Organic agriculture practices cannot ensure that products arecompletely free of residues; however, methods are used to minimizepollution from air, soil and water. "Organic food handlers, processors and retailers adhere tostandards that maintain the integrity of organic agriculturalproducts. The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimizethe health and productivity of interdependent communities of soillife, plants, animals and people." This definition gently shades the meaning most people associatewith the term, such as the use of non-chemical fertilizers andpesticides as the food is being grown.
Canada`s recently institutedorganic regulations specifically prohibit synthetic fertilizers,pesticides, and genetically-modified organisms (GMO). The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) puts it thisway: "Organic crops are raised without using most conventionalpesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers, or sewage sludge-basedfertilizers. Animals raised on an organic operation must be fedorganic feed and given access to the outdoors. They are given noantibiotics or growth hormones." The USDA allows a sliding scale that reduces some of the rigors oftheir own definition. According to this scale, only goods that aremade entirely of certified organic materials and methods arelabeled as "100 percent organic", while those whose makeup is only95 percent pure are labeled organic.
Both categories provide a USDAseal. Salt and water are exempted from consideration asingredients. Then there is another category that permits the use of up to 30percent non-organic materials and methods in production, but whichmay be legally labeled "made with organic ingredients". Productsthat are less than 70 percent organic are not allowed to callthemselves organic in any way. However, organic ingredients may belisted as such.
Just reading these definitions and finding out what cannot beincluded in a product labeled as organic is a powerful inducementto buy only organic products. Organic farming offers a difference In the U.S. alone, more than one billion pounds of pesticides arereleased into the environment as a result of non-organic practices.Some of these are very persistent and remain in the environmentlong after application. Extensive pesticide residue testing by theUSDA found that conventionally produced fruits and vegetables arethree to over four times more likely to contain pesticide residuesthan organic produce, and these are eight to eleven times morelikely to contain multiple residues and residues at levels three toten times higher than corresponding residues found in organicsamples.
A recent study reported in Environmental Health Perspectives found that by substituting organic fresh fruits and vegetables forcorresponding conventional food items, the median urinarymetabolite concentrations of malathion and chlorpyrifos pesticidescould be reduced from a high level to a level of non-detected orclose to non-detected. Conventional agricultural methods can cause water contamination.Beginning in 1995, a network of environmental organizations,including the Environmental Working Group, began testing tap waterfor herbicides across the Corn Belt, and in Louisiana and Maryland.The results revealed widespread contamination of tap water withmany different pesticides at levels that present serious healthrisks. In some cities, herbicides in tap water exceeded federallifetime health standards for weeks or months at a time. Theelimination of polluting chemicals and nitrogen leaching by the useof organic farming methods, in combination with soil building,works to prevent contamination and to protect and conserve waterresources. The term "natural" has no real meaning The parameters of the word "organic" are fairly well defined andspecified.
Many other food producers wish to gain the appeal andhigher price tag of organic foods without going through the rigorsto obtain organic certification. Instead, they label their foodproducts as "natural". This term does not in any way mean that theproduct meets the criteria met by organic products. If it seems like there are more products labeled as natural, it isnot your imagination. Almost everyone who is not an organicproducer wants to cash in on American`s desire to eat healthier.One-third of all new U.S.
food and beverage products in 2008highlighted claims of being "natural" or otherwise healthy. Butterms like these have nothing to do with the nutritive value of thefinal product. Even the term "organic" simply refers to how theproduct was grown or raised, and does not refer to the nutritionalvalue of the product. The USDA, the regulating body for meat and poultry, says thoseproducts can be labeled as "natural" if they do not contain anyartificial ingredients or added color, and are only minimallyprocessed (a vague requirement). But if the term is used, the labelmust also give an additional explanation, such as "no addedcolorings or artificial ingredients".
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows the term "natural" tobe used on food labels when the food contains no added colors,artificial flavors or synthetic substances. This leaves a largegray area. When asked in 2005 to be more specific in its definitionof "natural", the FDA declined. Soon after, the Center for Sciencein the Public Interest sued Kraft Foods because of an "all natural"claim for its Capri Sun drinks.
The suit was dropped when Kraftagreed to take the claim off the label. The makers of 7 Up tried tomake the same claim but removed the term from its label underthreat of court action. Why does organic food cost so much? Prices for organic foods reflect many of the same costs asconventional items in terms of growing, harvesting, transportationand storage. Organically produced foods must also meet stricterregulations governing all of these steps, resulting in a more laborand management intensive process. Organic farming is usually on asmaller scale.
Mounting evidence shows that if all the indirectcosts of conventional food production, like the cleanup of pollutedwater, replacement of eroded soils, costs of health care to farmersand farm workers, were factored into the price of food, organicfoods would cost the same or even less than conventionally grownfoods. A July, 2008 survey found that among customers who reported buyingorganic products, 56 percent had household incomes of more than$100,000, and 36 percent had incomes of less than $25,000. Thisdata shows that the decision to shop organically is a matter ofpriorities. Although the organic industry is predicted to grow at 18 percent ayear through 2010, the sagging economy may tempt some Americans tocut back on organic purchases they perceive as costing more. But inthe long run this choice is clearly not cost effective consideringthe damage to health and productivity losses associated with aconventionally grown diet, as well as the hidden costs of buyingconventional.
And then, there`s the taste to think about. Sources: Organic Trade Association, . Gregory McNamee, Just What Does Organic Mean, Anyway? Encyclopedia Britannica Blog. Martha Filipic, Chow Line: `Natural`often means little on label , Ohio State University Extension.
About the author Barbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area ofpersonal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative"treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and allthings natural.
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