People are becoming more aware of how their food is grown and what is added to it after it leaves the field. Pesticides have grave health effects, so organic food and products seem to be a better choice. Natural foods are less expensive, though, and, let’s face it, in this economy, sometimes price is the deal maker. People buy natural products thinking they are the same as organic. It’s a blurry line to the general public.
What’s the difference between natural and organic?
Organic foods are grown with strict standards that use no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers in the field. Growing methods using compost and cover crops replenish the soil with nutrients every year. Healthy soil makes hardy plants that can withstand adverse conditions. Organic growing maintains soil and ecological biodiversity, and GMO seeds are not allowed.
Conventionally grown crops, on the other hand, have synthetic fertilizers and sewage sludge applied to them in the place of soil amendments. Farmers spray herbicides, pesticides and fungicides, because the plants have no healthy resistance to pests and disease.
Organic foods are minimally processed. They contain no preservatives, no artificial ingredients, no GMOs, and they cannot be irradiated.
Organic livestock must eat organic feed, which is grown and prepared according to organic standards. Animals must also be pastured, not confined to a feedlot.
Is your local farm certified organic?
Farmers earn the USDA Certified Organic label by growing and processing to strict organic standards. They also go through a stringent process of fields and records inspections. Soil and water are tested regularly to make sure a farm is not using synthetic products.
It’s important to know how to read an organic label. 100% Organic means just what it says – all ingredients in a processed food product are organic. Organic means 95% of the ingredients are organic. Made with Organic Ingredients means 70% of the products are organic, and they are frequently listed. If it does not say 100% Organic, the remaining ingredients can contain GMOs, artificial ingredients, antibiotics or irradiation. It’s important in these days of harmful effects of GMO foods that we avoid them as much as possible.
What does ‘natural’ food mean?
The term ‘natural’ can mean anything. There are no rules or guidelines and no inspection or certification system. The USDA Natural label is only for meat and poultry! This means the meat was minimally processed, but it does not address the issue of how it was raised. It may have been inhumanely caged for its entire life, pumped with antibiotics and growth hormones, or been fed conventionally grown feed. These are all highly likely scenarios.
Because there are no natural standards, processors can call anything natural. I have found food on supermarket shelves that claim to be natural, because they have plant matter in them, like nuts, fruit or flour (think granola bars). If there is not a USDA Certified Organic label on it, those crops were grown conventionally, and there is nothing natural about that. The word natural is used to confuse consumers into thinking they are getting something as healthy as organic without the added expense.
How to eat healthy food
The best way to eat healthy food is to eat locally. Talk to your farmers about how they grow and process their food. Since organic certification is an expensive process, and the USDA is being pressured to relax their standards, many small farmers do not get certified. They may grow to and beyond organic standards, but they are not certified. This is the case of the farm where I am a partner.
All the small food companies that got the organic movement started have been bought up by mega-corporations, which want organic standards loosened. Toxic things that are not allowed in organic growing and processing may become part of ‘organic’. That means that Organic Certification will have less meaning, hurting the integrity of small farmers.
Find your local farmers at Local Harvest and ask questions! You might be surprised to find organic food that you didn’t realize existed! Steer clear of processed foods, which is where you find the word ‘natural’ used very loosely. The best way to eat organic is to eat whole foods, shop at the farmer’s market and/or grow your own. Taking control of what goes into your body is the best way to assure good health.