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Organic, Conventional Farming, & Natural? What do they all mean?

You hear it all the time but do you truly know the difference between organic vs conventional farming & organic vs natural?

Let's compare this quickly....You have 2 apples in your hand-one is conventionally grown & the other is organic.  Both apples are firm, shiny, & red and both provide vitamins and fiber, free of fat, sodium, & cholesterol.  Which do you choose?

Conventional vs Organic Farming

The word "organic" refers to the way farmers grow & process agricultural products, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products, 7 meat.  Organic farming practices are designed to encourage soil & water conservation & also reduce pollution.  Farmers who grow organic produce also don't use conventional methods to fertilize & control weeds.

Organic or Not?  Check the label & know the difference

The U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) has established an organic certification program that requires all organic foods to meet strict government standards.  These standards regulate how such foods are grown, handled, & processed.

Any product labeled as organic must be USDA certified.  What does this label mean?  This means it is produced & processed according to the USDA Standards.  Products that are completely organic -- such as fruits, vegetables, eggs or other single-ingredient foods -- are labeled 100% organic and can carry the USDA seal.

Foods that have more than one ingredient, such as breakfast cereal, can use the USDA organic seal plus the following wording, depending on the # of organic ingredients:

**100% organic = To use this phrase, products must be either completely organic or made of all organic ingredients.

**Organic = Products must be at least 95% organic to use this term.

Products that contain at least 70% organic ingredients may say "made with organic ingredients" on the label, but may not use the seal.  Foods containing less than 70% organic ingredients can't use the seal or the word "organic" on their product labels.  They can include the organic items in their ingredient list, however.


Do 'organic' and 'natural' mean the same thing?

No, 'natural' and 'organic' are not interchangeable terms.  You may see 'natural' and other terms such as 'all natural', 'free range', or 'hormone free' on food labels.  These descriptions must be truthful, but don't confuse them with the term 'organic'.  Only foods that are grown & processed according to USDA organic standards can be labeled organic.

What are some other reasons to buy organic?

*Pesticides: Conventional growers use synthetic pesticides to protect their crops from molds, insects, & diseases.  When farmers spray pesticides, this can leave residue on produce.  Organic farmers use insect traps, careful crop selection (disease-resistant varities), predator insects or beneficial micro-organisms instead to control crop-damaging pests.  If you buy organic you are definitely limiting your exposure to these residues.  Organic produce typically carries significantly fewer pesticide residues than conventional products however there can still be residue on most products -- both organic and nonorganic -- that don't exceed governement safety thresholds.

*Food additives: Organic regulations ban or severely restrict the use of food additives, processing aids (substances used during processing, but not added directly to food) & fortifying agents commonly used in nonorganic foods, including preservatives, artificial sweeteners, colorings & flavorings, & monosodium glutamate.

*Environment: Some people buy organic food for environmental reasons & to help reduce pollution, conserve water, & soil quality.

Sources:  Mayo Clinic, Washington Post, & Prevention.com