Organic Food – Look for the Label

by Alison Lueders, Great Green Editing

What is Organic Food?

Food products these days carry lots of different labels: “low sodium”, “gluten-free”, “cage-free” and so on. You will also see the labels for “natural” and “organic.” It’s important to know that “natural” has no actual, government-regulated meaning, while “organic” does.

Look for the USDA Organic label.
Look for the USDA Organic label.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.”

Despite the bureaucratese, I was truly excited to learn that “sewage sludge” is barred from fertilizing organic food, because I did not know that was an option, and – well – eeewww. At any rate, food with the “USDA Organic” label shown have to follow government standards and come from farms that are inspected to ensure compliance.

The Benefits of Organic Food

In addition to the “no sewage sludge” benefit, organic food is a better choice for both your health and the planet because:

  • Producing organic foods creates fewer greenhouse gas emissions. No petroleum-based pesticides or herbicides means fewer GHGs that fuel global warming.
  • There is no synthetic fertilizer residue on organic food. See the Sustany® post earlier this month about the “Dirty Dozen” list from the Environmental Working Group, which tests fruits and vegetables for chemical residues.
  • The USDA Organic label also effectively means “non-GMO” (genetically modified organism) food as well. A huge battle is raging currently about whether or not to label GMO foods in the U.S. Many European countries banned GMO foods years ago, and require labeling on foods that do contain them. In the U.S., some business are opposed to the labeling.

Currently, the jury’s out on the issue of nutrition. There is disagreement about whether organic food is more nutritious than conventionally grown. Stanford University released a study last year that said organic food ISN’T more nutritious. While this is interesting, many people eat organic to avoid ingesting chemicals, not to get more vitamins and minerals.

Organic food as a business is booming, growing from $8.6 billion in sales in 2002 to $29 billion in sales by 2011. The Organic Trade Association projects $42 billion in sales by 2014. Florida, with its deep roots in agriculture and a growing set of farmers that farm sustainably, should be able to cash in on this trend.

In Tampa Bay, companies like Tampa Bay Organics and Sweetwater Organic Farm are just two examples of this. We wish them and their cohort continued success!