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What Does Organic Mean & How to Tell if Food is Organic or Not

Inside this post: 3 ways to tell if food is organic or not, and how is organic food different from conventional food? How to be a smart consumer when shopping for organic.


How to Tell if the Food You Eat is Organic or Not

Nowadays, there are thousands of products labeled “organic” from t-shirts and underwear, to household goods and most prevalently on food containers. The label has become so popular, even products like lawn care or organic dry cleaners make you stop and question if products and services, truly are what they say.

As a consumer, how do you weed through all the terms to figure out what’s really organic, and what’s claiming the clean goodness simply for marketing reasons.

But wait… there are half a dozen other labels and claims on food packaging these days too. How do you know the food you’re buying is really what it says it is.. ORGANIC?

Let’s talk about FOOD, what does organic mean and how to tell if food is organic or not.


The Key Benefits of Organic Food 

How your food is grown, or raised, and comes to be on your plate can have a major impact on your overall health. Organic food

Glyphosate has been researched and linked to high rates of kidney & liver disease, ruining the gut micro biome, inflammation, hormone disruption, depression, miscarriage, and many types of cancer. It’s a known carcinogen, and banned in many countries outside the US, yet your food is sprayed and grown in it.

How do you avoid it? Buy organic as much as possible.

You can reduce the presence of glyphosate by 70% within 6 days with a fully organic diet. (source)

According to the study author and Friends of the Earth senior scientist Kendra Klein, Ph.D., this research demonstrates “how rapidly we can get these pesticides out of our bodies.”

Organic food also has benefits such as more antioxidants than conventionally-grown counterparts, and people with symptoms such as food allergies, sensitivities to chemicals, or preservatives often find them to lessen or go away when switching to an all-organic diet.


3 ways to tell if food is organic or not, and how is organic food different from conventional food? How to be a smart consumer when shopping for organic.


Benefits of Eating Organically Grown and Raised Foods: 

  • Organic food is GMO-free food. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) or genetically engineered (GE) foods are plants whose DNA has been altered in ways that cannot occur in nature or by traditional crossbreeding. GMO foods are created to be resistant to pesticides or produce an insecticide. (read on below on how to spot GMO produce at the store.) 
  • Organic produce is grown without pesticides. Chemicals such as fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides are widely used in conventional agriculture and the residue remains in, and on produce you put into your body.
  • Organic farming is better for the environment. Organic farming practices reduce pollution, conserve water, reduce soil erosion, increase soil fertility, and use less energy. Farming without pesticides is also better for nearby birds and animals as well as people who live close to farms.
  • Organically raised animals are NOT injected with antibiotics, growth hormones, or fed animal byproducts. Feeding livestock animal byproducts increases the risk of mad cow disease. Also, when animals are given antibiotics this can create antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria in people who consume these non-organic foods.
  • Organic meat and milk are richer in certain nutrients. Results of a 2016 European study show that levels of certain nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, were up to 50 percent higher in organic meat and milk than their conventionally-grown counterparts.


How Organic Produce is Grown:

  • Food is grown with natural fertilizers (compost, manure)
  • Weeds are controlled naturally (hand weeding, mulching, tilling, crop rotation)
  • Pests are controlled with natural methods (birds, insects, traps and naturally-derived pesticides)


How Conventional Produce is Grown:

  • Food is grown with synthetic or chemical fertilizers
  • Weeds are controlled using chemical herbicides
  • Pests are controlled using synthetic pesticides

Here’s the 3 ways to be a savvy consumer and shop for organic food whether you’re at the grocery store, or shopping local at a farmer’s market or produce stand.


1) Look for the Green & White USDA Organic Label 

USDA Organic Food Labeling:

How to Tell if Food is Organic or NotIn the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture certifies if food items qualify for organic labeling or not. Nonfood items (clothing, home goods, etc.) are not as strictly regulated.

Foods that meet USDA organic standards are labeled as “certified organic,” also sometimes called “USDA-certified organic.”

Organic food in the United States can be identified when the following conditions are met:

  • The product bears the official USDA organic seal.
  • The product has been certified organic.
  • The product contains 95 percent or more organic ingredientsThe remaining 5% must be allowed ingredients.
  • Any agricultural ingredients in the product must be organic unless unavailable.
  • Produce can be called organic if it’s certified to have grown on soil that had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest. … Prohibited substances include most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

Here are answers to the most popular questions when it comes to claiming organic, labeling food as organic and the process of receiving organic certification, according to the USDA.


What is the difference between organic and 100% organic?

Certified 100PercentOrganic means that all (100%) the ingredients in a product have been grown or raised according to the USDA’s organic standards, which are the rules for producing foods labeled organic. Certified Organic requires  that 95 to 99% of the ingredients follow the rules.


Can you trust the USDA organic label?

Organic products often have a number of labels on them, but the USDA Organic label is the only one that’s federally certified by accredited agents. Some in the food system are trying to pass off conventional food as organic as a way to make more money. This mean, you should only trust and rely on the USDA Organic Label. 


Can You Say Organic if Not Certified?

If you are not certified, you must not make any organic claim on the main display panel or use the USDA organic seal anywhere on the package. You may only, on the information panel, identify the certified organic ingredients as organic and the percentage of organic ingredients.

The USDA allows other products with at least 70% organically produced ingredients to use the words “made with organic ingredients.” However, those products cannot carry the green-and-white USDA seal.


What is the difference between organic and 100% organic?

Certified 100 Percent Organic means that all the ingredients in a product have been grown or raised according to the USDA’s organic standards, which are the rules for producing foods labeled organic. Certified Organic requires that 95 to 99 percent of the ingredients follow the rules.


2) Read the PLU Sticker on Fruits & Vegetables

Fruits & Vegetables Price Look Up (PLU) Sticker 

If you want a quick way to check if fruits and vegetables you’re purchasing are truly organic, the simplest way to do this is to look at the Price Look Up (PLU) sticker on them.

If the produce you’re shopping for is organic, the five-digit code will begin with the number 9. Non-organic produce will have four digits and not begin with this number, and genetically modified food (GMO) will also have five-digits but will begin with the number 8.

Here’s a diagram to help you picture what this looks like:

3) Buying Organic Food Locally & Ask for Certification

Buying organic produce from local farms and sellers cost less because there’s no middlemen or shipping costs added to your bill. However, produce at farmer’s market often lack PLU stickers, so how do you confirm your fruit and vegetables are indeed organic?

Under the USDA’s National Organic Program, farmers who market their products as organic are supposed to have their wares certified by a USDA-accredited agent or can face steep fines if they are caught. If the product is being touted as certified, you can ask to see a copy of the organic certification paperwork. Vendors at produce standards, pick your own produce farms, and farmer’s markets are supposed to have it on hand whenever selling their wares and telling customers their produce or food is organic.


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