Organic Foods: What Makes A Food Organic? | Are Organic Foods Better to Eat?

Organic Foods: What makes a food organic?

The term “organic” has grown in popularity in the food industry during the past decade. However, many customers remain unsure of what constitutes organic food. Some even challenge the authenticity of organic food labels. In this blog, we will look at the essence of organic foods: what makes a food organic, and are organic foods healthier to eat? We will also explain the significance of the USDA Certified Organic label.

Sustainability eating farmers Market

WHAT DOES IT MEAN WHEN FOOD IS ORGANIC?

LET’S FIRST DEFINE ORGANIC

This is probably one of the top questions that many consumers ask. But before we delve into the world of organic foods, we must first define the term. “Organic” refers to agricultural and food production systems that focus on natural, sustainable practices. 

Organic farming, for example, aims to develop crops (fruits, vegetables and grains) and raise livestock (chicken, cows, and fish)  in harmony with nature by eliminating synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The main goal is to establish a comprehensive and balanced ecosystem that is better for both for the environment and us the consumers.

In the United States, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for certifying organic products, and understanding what their certification process includes is critical in understanding what makes a food organic. 

In 2002, the USDA established the National Organic Program (NOP) to verify that “organic” products fall within the set standards and procedures. The NOP establishes the laws and criteria that farmers, processors, and retailers must follow to receive the valuable USDA Certified Organic label.

Complete An Application

Farmers and food manufacturing companies seeking organic certification must submit extensive applications that outline their farming or production procedures. This contains details on the various inputs employed, crop rotation programs, and pest management measures.

On-site Inspection

After the application has been submitted to regulatory bodies, specially trained and accredited inspectors will be dispatched to visit the farm, food facility, or manufacturing plant.

The goal is to verify that the stated practices align with organic standards. This on-site inspection is a critical step in the certification process, ensuring compliance with the National Organic Program (NOP) regulations.

Certification Approval

A certification team will then determine whether or not the farm or manufacturer fulfills organic requirements based on the application and inspection results. If accepted, the farm or facility is granted USDA Certified Organic status.

Annual Inspections

Certified organic companies are inspected on an annual basis to guarantee they continue to meet organic requirements. This process contributes to the integrity of the organic certification.

Tomato on a vine

(1) Health Of The Soil

The first time I heard about crop rotation was in my Agricultural Science class. Farmers use this method of farming to increase the health of the soil and promote healthy crops. Moreover, most farmers in Jamaica use natural fertilizers such as “cow manure” to enrich the soil and promote fertile soil.

Soil health during organic farming is a top priority. Instead of synthetic chemicals, organic farmers utilize natural fertilizers, cover crops, and crop rotations to improve soil fertility and structure. Healthy soil is rich in organic matter, which promotes greater water retention and gives important nutrients to crops.

Organic Produce Taste Richer

Many customers, like myself, believe that organic produce tastes better than conventionally cultivated produce. When I travel home, the organically grown fruits and vegetables smell and taste far better than those sold in the United States. What are your thoughts?

(2) Crop Diversity

Organic farming promotes biodiversity by avoiding monoculture, the practice of growing a single crop over large areas.

Planting a variety of crops helps to avoid pest and disease infestations while also developing a more resilient and sustainable agricultural system.

(3) Natural Weed and Pest Management

The use of natural pest and weed management strategies are implemented by organic farmers. These include, but are not limited to introducing beneficial insects, rotating crops, and mechanical weeding. This reduces the demand for synthetic insecticides and herbicides.

100% ORGANIC

Products labeled “100% Organic” must include purely organic ingredients, excluding water or salt.  As a result, they can show the USDA Organic seal.

ORGANIC

For products to be labeled “Organic” they must include at least 95% organic ingredients, with the remaining 5% passing strict standards. These products can also have the USDA Organic seal.

MADE WITH ORGANIC INGREDIENTS

In comparison, Products with at least 70% organic ingredients may bear the phrase “Made with Organic Ingredients” on the label. However, they are unable to exhibit the USDA Organic seal. 

The Mayo Clinic also emphasized that “Natural” and Organic” are not the same. Foods with the label Natural mean that products do not contain any artificial color, preservatives and flavors.

Strict Regulation: USDA Certified Organic products adhere to strict regulations that prohibit the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and genetically modified organisms. Choosing organic reduces exposure to potentially harmful chemicals in your food.

Protects The Environment: Farmers who practice organic farming help to protect the health of the soil, water, and surrounding ecosystems by avoiding synthetic chemicals. This also contributes to the long-term sustainability of agriculture.

Humane Treatment of Livestocks: The USDA Certified Organic certification guarantees that animals are raised in humane conditions with access to outdoor spaces, natural diets, and no antibiotics or growth hormones.

Organic and non-organic foods have distinct advantages and disadvantages, and consumers frequently consider these characteristics when deciding what to eat.

Individual tastes, health considerations, and environmental concerns can all impact whether to choose organic or non-organic products. Here’s an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of both types of food.

Organic Pros: 

(1) Reduced exposure to pesticides and herbicides.

(2) Long-term sustainability of ecosystems and agriculture.

(3) No Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) that have the potential for health and environmental impacts.

(4) Promote animal welfare

The use of growth hormones and antibiotics which are considered bad for our health are prohibited in organic farming.

(5) Organic foods are said to be more nutrient-dense. Organic farming practices potentially lead to higher levels of certain vitamins and minerals.

Pros of Non-organic Foods:

(a) Less Expensive: 

Non-organic foods are often less expensive than organic options. Because of their accessibility, they are a viable option for those on a tight budget.

(b) More Available Globally: 

While organic foods have become very popular, non-organic foods are commonly more available in supermarkets and grocery stores, giving consumers a more diverse selection of options. This availability offers a reliable and convenient food source.

(c) Longer Shelf-life: 

Non-organic foods often contain synthetic preservatives, which can extend their shelf life.

 This can be advantageous for consumers who prefer to buy in bulk or minimize the frequency of shopping trips.

Organic Cons:

(1) Higher Cost: Organic foods are often more expensive than non-organic alternatives. The higher costs are linked to organic farming’s labor-intensive nature, as well as the fees connected with getting organic certification.

(2) Limited Availability: Organic products may not be as widely available as conventional options, due to geographic locations and demands of the market. As a result, consumers have limited grocery choices.

(3) Shorter Shelf Life: Produce that is organic may have a lower shelf life due to the lack of synthetic preservatives. If not managed appropriately, this might result in more frequent shopping trips and potentially wasted food.

Cons of Non-Organic Foods:

(a) Pesticide Residue: Non-organic farming may involve the use of synthetic pesticides, which can leave residues on the produce. Prolonged exposure to certain pesticides has been linked to health risks.

(b) Environmental Impacts: Soil degradation, water pollution, and biodiversity loss are all potential consequences of conventional farming techniques. The widespread use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides can have a harmful environmental impact.

(c) GMOs: Many non-organic crops have been genetically engineered to improve features like insect resistance and herbicide tolerance. Some people are concerned about the long-term repercussions of GMO eating.

(d) Use of Antibiotics in Animal Farming: Non-organic livestock farming often includes the routine use of antibiotics to boost growth and avoid disease. This technique has raised concerns about the spread of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms.

Tomato on a vine

Approximate Cost of Organic vs. Non-Organic Foods in 2024.**

**These groceries are available on Amazon Fresh, where prices may change daily. You may also be able to shop for lower-cost produce or products at your local grocery shop or farmers’ market.

Overall Thoughts

Organic food has emerged as a symbol of sustainable and thoughtful living in a world where customers are becoming increasingly aware of the impact of their purchasing decisions on their health and environment.

USDA Certified Organic is said to be a dependable reference, assuring consumers that the items they buy satisfy high organic agricultural and production requirements.

Understanding the principles of organic farming and the importance of the USDA Certified Organic label allows customers to make informed decisions that correspond with their values, resulting in a healthier earth and a more sustainable future.

Choose organic and/or Non-Organic

Choosing between organic and non-organic foods involves weighing the advantages and disadvantages based on individual preferences, health considerations, and ethical beliefs.

While organic foods have benefits such as no pesticide exposure and an emphasis on environmental sustainability, they are more expensive. 

Non-organic foods, on the other hand,  are less expensive and more generally available, yet they may contain pesticide residues and contribute to environmental concerns. 

Making informed food choices requires examining various factors that are consistent with personal beliefs and health concerns.

Always Research Companies

I include both organic and non-organic foods in my diet. However, I mainly buy organic fruits and vegetables in which their skin will be eaten. I frequently prefer companies that sell organic products or produce and are upfront about their agricultural practices on their website. 

Please conduct research on companies before investing in their organic products. Buy organic products in bulk when they are on sale and preserve or store them for later use.

Food Explora hopes this blog provides you with knowledge  that will allow you to make more informed food choices the next time you go grocery shopping. 

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Do you shop organic, non-organic or both?

23 thoughts on “Organic Foods: What Makes A Food Organic? | Are Organic Foods Better to Eat?”

  1. Although I haven’t been 100% on the organic bandwagon, we have noticed that products with this certification usually have way less filler ingredients! For example, peanut butter. The only ingredient is peanuts in the organic version whereas typical peanut butters add hydrogenated oils, additional sugar, etc. We are so glad we live near Aldi’s which has some great, simple food options without all the junk added to it (and for great prices)!

    1. Yes, Kali, you are right. 100% organic means no preservatives, chemicals etc. added. There is a new Aldi’s grocery store in my neighborhood. I will check them out. Thanks for dropping by.

  2. Very interesting look at organic food. I didn’t realize organic could have a shorter shelf life because it lacks synthetic preservatives. Great info!

  3. Great information – thanks for sharing! I am guilty of not paying much attention to food. I just buy whatever drags my attention without too much reading. And then I promised myself I’d start caring more, but still haven’t started. I like how you explained about organic food in detail.

  4. Thanks for the details. I have been buying organic for over 30 years. Suspect of some farmers, better to have the label than not. For my money, more important to have a relationship with your farmer(s). More reliable to know what their commitment is.

  5. It’s sad that Organic costs so much more. It shouldn’t be. Application of pesticides and chemicals to our fields yields short term profits but in the long run kills the land and the soil. The cost of that is enormous.

    Sadly the food chain doesn’t build this cost into pricing.

    I buy organic as much as possible. The link included with this comment has tips on how you can save on organic produce!

  6. There’s a lot of great information in this article. Personally, I try to stick to the dirty dozen list and buy organic for those things. Thanks for researching this bit of a controversial topic and putting the article together.

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