The Great Debate: Organic or Natural?

by on March 23rd, 2010 at 7:00 am

No longer reserved for the specialty grocers or markets, organic and natural foods are abundantly available at most supermarkets and even big box stores. But what exactly do those terms mean?

Defining ‘Organic’

The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) defines organic produce and other ingredients as grown without pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation, and animal products (meat, poultry, eggs, dairy) are free of all antibiotics and/or growth hormones.

Farmers also adhere to environmental sustainability and conservation practices, and a government-approved certifier who inspects the farm for meeting USDA organic standards.

Finally, all food handlers and processors of the goods must be certified, too.

Therefore, while natural foods are free of additives and preservatives, they are not regulated by the same strict criteria as organic foods, and could still contain ingredients grown using pesticides or that were genetically modified.

Why is Organic More Expensive?

A common (and legitimate) complaint of consumers, but again, not always true. Coffee, cereal, bread and even some meats are often the same price, and seasonality often comes into play. When the cost is higher, keep a few points in mind:

* Conventional farmers receive federal subsidies – organic farmers do not.
* Organic farming requires more labor and management.

Why Buy Organic?

As with all food, it is a matter of choice. There’s no doubt that organically produced foods help promote a less toxic environment for the air, soil, water, and our bodies. If you can only afford to buy a few items organic, choose the ones that are conventionally the highest in pesticides and hormones, such as meats and milk, and fruits and veggies with edible skins (a tomato versus a banana). Consider joining a local organic food share club or buy in bulk with friends and save.

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