What is Organic Food? The Definition of Organic Food

The Organic Food Movement

Organic Food: What Makes Food Organic

Organic Food: What Makes Food Organic

“Organic” has been a major buzzword throughout the past decade and beyond, with health conscious eaters clamoring for organic produce, organic canned goods, and even organic dog food.

In fact, organic food is the fastest growing sector of the American food marketplace, with organic food sales growing by 17-20% a year for the past few years, far exceeding the growth of conventional food at only 2-3% a year.

But what exactly is “Organic”? For those new to the “Organic” movement, let’s start with the simplest definition. Organic foods are foods that are produced without synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, genetically modified organisms, and are not processed using irradiation, industrial solvents, or chemical food additives. The term “Organic” can apply to pretty much any food category from fruits and vegetables to grains like wheat and rice to livestock to dairy products.

Organic Farming Techniques and Requirements

Organic farming relies on more sustainable farming techniques, such as crop rotation, green manure, and biological pest control. Organic livestock farming dictates that animals should not be pushed to produce more than they would naturally. That means no growth hormones or other drugs, lots of outdoor space and fresh air, and minimized stress in transport and slaughter. In addition, a cow’s diet has to be 60% grass, as opposed to grain in conventional farming.

USDA Organic Certification: Standards for Organic Food

USDA Organic Certification

USDA Organic Certification

Organic foods are heavily regulated and to be classified as Organic, farmers must submit to a rigorous certification process. In the U.S., certified organic products are regulated by USDA’s National Organic Program, which is managed in accordance with the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) of 1990 (PDF). This legislation set forth uniform national standards for organic products to ensure that products marketed as organic were originating from farms certified by the USDA as integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.

Why Buy Organic Food? The Benefits of Buying Organic

With these standards in place, farms can protect their environment with sustainable practices that protect soil integrity and encourage the continued health of their harvests, while contributing to a cleaner environment for all. Whether or not to purchase organic is really up to the consumer.

While organic products can often come at a higher cost, consumers can feel assured that the produce they are bringing to their tables has come from pesticide-free farms and healthy cows and chickens. Just look for the USDA Organic label at the supermarket and when in doubt, ask your grocer. They’ll be more than happy to help you make an informed choice.

[photocredit: Jim Wehtje; USDA]


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