We hear the term “organic” everywhere. However, there tends to be a lot of confusion over what exactly organic means. There can also be confusion over where to draw the line with being healthy and just…well, paying for fancy marketing. Today I’m going to cover some information regarding food, but keep in mind that organic certifications also extend out to many other products such as personal care products and clothing.
The USDA is the governmental department that issues organic certification to farmers, producers and other food manufactures. To become organic certified applicants must adhere to specific protocols ensuring the protection of their animals and land.
In order to obtain certification farmers and producers must follow the below guidelines created by the USDA:
- Preserve natural resources and biodiversity
- Support animal health and welfare
- Provide access to the outdoors so that animals can exercise their natural behaviors
- Only use approved materials
- Do not use genetically modified ingredients
- Receive annual onsite inspections
- Separate organic food from non-organic food
The guidelines are meant to cover all steps from farm to table in the production cycle. Once a farmer, producer or processer is granted certification they can then use the familiar USDA Organic label meant to distinguish their products from conventional products.
So this begs the question, is there a reason to choose organic? Here are some benefits for you to consider:
- Organic food limits your exposure to synthetic chemicals like pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides and fungicides which are used in conventional agriculture. One of the most common, and controversial, pesticides is known as Round-Up (glyphosate), which the World Health Organization recently classified as a ‘probable carcinogen’. Do you want that on your lettuce?
- Applying synthetic chemicals to crops contributes to water pollution, which affects the terrestrial and aquatic environments of native wildlife and animals. Water pollution and the toxic residues that build up in the eco system are largely to blame for the ‘deadzone’ found where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico.
- Organic agriculture utilizes sustainable farming methods like crop rotation, cover crops and Biointensive Integrated Pest Management. This is in direct contrast to the heavy use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides used in conventional farming.
- Sustainable farming methods protect the unique biodiversity of a region, promote soil health and enable farmers to coexist with animal and native plant wildlife for future generations.
- The USDA prohibits the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in organic agriculture. GMOs have had parts of their genomes altered to protect against pests and to improve growth. The implications of GMOS still remain untested, but problems have been documented in the poisoning of wildlife and transferring GMO genes to native plans.
- Organic farming relies on natural feeding methods and healthy environments for farm animals. Many conventionally raised animals are crowded in cages and barns with little or no access to the outdoors. *
- Eating organically limits exposure to hormones and antibiotics that are given to animals on conventional farms. They are used to increase growth rate and to reduce infection (most infections stem from the horrible living conditions the animals are forced into). This practice has given way to super bugs, which are resistant to antibiotics and can create serious health risks in humans.
- Organic produce tastes better! Organic produce grown in a natural environment, with healthy, nutritious soil and limited adulteration results in some truly amazing flavors.
*When it comes to animal welfare, you can take it a step further by learning more from the organization Animal Welfare Approved - I suggest this site since organic labeling for animals does not, in my opinion, go far enough. The best thing we can do for ourselves is get educated so that we’re making informed decisions.
Now, with all this in mind, how do we know we’re being healthier by choosing organic and not just spending more?
First off, supporting local farms who follow organic farming practices is not only great for you and great for the farm, it’s better for the environment. So start there and purchase what you can at farmer’s markets or stores that sell local food. When it comes to meat, many local farms may not be organic certified but if they’re raising animals on pasture and not using chemicals or antibiotics, it’s going to be a much healthier choice than factory-farmed conventional meat from the grocery store. Putting money into the small, sustainable farming system is far and away the healthier choice for everyone. Now, with that said, many large scale stores such as Costco are investing a lot in selling higher quality and organic food – I am really happy to see this and think it’s a huge move for our food system.
I also suggest learning about The Clean 15 and The Dirty Dozen as this will help you analyze which foods to purchase organic.
I’m going to stop here since this is already a lot of information – I hope in the very least to have peaked your interest as to why choosing organic and local food can be beneficial to your health.