The word organic has become a broadly used term in our culture today. Everything from food to gardening soil has been labeled organic. How do you know what products to trust and buy?
What does organic mean?
The term organic in the most generic sense simply means living or derived from living things. In this definition, a lot of products that would not be labeled “organic” are in fact made from organic material.
A product labeled “organic”, however, means that the food or ingredients were grown and produced without the use of pesticides, fertilizers made from synthetic ingredients, sewage sludge, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation. Animals that produce meat, eggs, and dairy products are raised without antibiotics or growth hormones.
Organic vs Certified Organic
The USDA National Organic Program has a very strict certification process that includes a 3-year land conversion process to ensure that all chemicals are removed from the soil.
There are three levels of certification:
- 100% Organic Products with this label must include only organically grown ingredients (excluding salt and water).
- Made With Organic Ingredients Products will contain at least 70% organic-grown ingredients and many lists at least 3 on the front packaging.
- Organic Ingredients Listed Products that contain less than 70% organically produced ingredients may not claim the term organic on the front package but may list specific organic ingredients on the back.
Products that are certified will display the USDA Organic seal on their packaging.
When is certified bad?
In certain cases, it is not always best to buy certified organic products. Sometimes local farmers are hindered by USDA regulations, as in cases with selling raw milk and small amounts of home-grown vegetables.
Some of the regulations required for certified organic status raise ethical questions as well. This is most prevalent in organic dairies. Since antibiotics are not allowed, sick cows are either still milked or sold to be slaughtered rather than treated and the milk discarded until it tests free of antibiotics.
Cost is another hindrance for small farmers and ranchers to become USDA certified.
Then how do I know it is safe?
When dealing with local producers, the easiest way to know if their products are safe is to get to know them. Find out what practices they use, and more importantly, what they won't do. Ask to see their animals or crops. If they are truly using organic practices they will be more than happy to prove their trustworthiness.
When buying organic products, remember there are other important factors that come into play. Do your research and read the labels to make sure you are buying products that are not only organic and healthy but also produced through ethical and sustainable practices.
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