Organic Food Shopping. What does it all mean?

By: Charlotte Miller

I don’t know about you, but when I enter grocery stores, the label of ‘organic’ on certain products seems to jump out at me. Purchasing only organic products tends to give me a sense of validation, and appears to be the healthier choice. Now, I know organic products are marketed as the healthier option, but should we be prioritizing buying the items labeled organic? What does this label actually mean? Are we getting what we think we’re paying for?

 The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for regulating the safety and overall health factors of foods while also tracking foodborne illnesses for the United States. In contrast, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates what foods can be labeled as organic. But what does organic really mean? 

“To be labeled organic, foods must meet strict USDA production regulations—that is, they must be produced without synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, drugs, and preservatives and without genetic engineering or irradiation” (Sizer, Whitney, & Piché, 2020, pg.460).

Reducing the amount of synthetic, or unnatural, chemicals can reduce the risk of foodborne illness, more commonly known as food poisoning (Sizer, Whitney, & Piché, 2020). Additionally, processed foods have additives, like phosphates, that can be harmful in large quantities and prevent the product from earning the organic label. 

 I sometimes wonder if the consistent upcharge of organic products is worth it.  While the nutrient difference between non-organic and organic foods is minimal, the differences in cleanliness and sustainability are quite large. Shopping sustainably is one small yet effective way to make a positive impact on the environment. When grocery shopping at your local farmer’s market or venturing into the aisles of a grocery store, making a conscious effort to shop organically can reap benefits for both yourself and the environment! 

What to Know: 

  • When a food is labeled organic, 95% of the ingredients must meet the requirements for organic standards (Sizer, Whitney, & Piché, 2020). 

Why Care:

  • Not all of the ingredients in foods labeled ‘organic’ are actually organic! This is a common misconception. 

What to Know:

  • When a food is labeled 100% organic, all ingredients must meet the requirements (Sizer, Whitney, & Piché, 2020).

Why Care:  

  • Compost fertilizer is often used in the replacement of synthetic fertilizers in an effort to make the food being produced completely organic (Sizer, Whitney, & Piché, 2020). 
  • Organic fertilizer versus synthetic fertilizer: 
    • Organic fertilizers are naturally occurring, while synthetic fertilizers are artificial. In an effort to protect our bodies and planet, natural products are always better than unnatural ones. 

Reference List:

Sizer, F. S., Whitney, E. N., & Piché, L. A. (2020). Nutrition: Concepts and controversies (15th ed.). Toronto, Ontario: Nelson.

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