What is Organic?

by Camille Kapaun and Victoria Posmantur

Simply stated, organic produce and other ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or radiation. “Organic” animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones. Lastly, companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too. Farms are inspected randomly and once annually to assure they are meeting these guidelines.

Shopping for organic foods can be a challenge for consumers; reading labels can be tricky. What does ‘all natural’ or ‘no artificial ingredients’ mean? One would think they mean exactly what they say, but there have been ways to get around the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) labeling requirements and into our pantries.

A box that says ‘all natural’ doesn’t mean anything. The word “natural” has not yet been defined by the FDA. There are laws requiring food manufacturers to list all of the ingredients of their products, but there aren’t any laws that regulate the content on the rest of box. The FDA has claimed that they have more pressing issues on their plate, and defining the word “natural” won’t be happening in the near future. However, this means synthetic ingredients like hydrogenated fats can be in products that claim to be ‘all natural.’

Furthermore, labels that include the phrase, ‘No Artificial Ingredients’ can be misleading as well. If you look carefully at products that have this phrase on their packaging, you will likely see a trademark symbol, an ‘®’ after. The intention of a trademark is to enrich brand recognition and enhance commerce. Therefore, a trademark isn’t a nutritional claim, even though it may appear to be one.

Misleading labeling doesn’t stop here. There are many other marketing ploys that manufacturers use to fool buyers into thinking they are buying healthy foods. At the moment, consumers have little recourse, other than to be aware of the false advertising. Look out for phrases like, ‘nonfat’, ‘no sugar added’, or ‘whole grain’. However, if you are really concerned about what is in your food, buying food labeled ‘100% organic’ is your safest bet.

Quick Guide to Organic Food Terms:

When you buying organic foods, look for the “USDA Organic” label. Only foods in the categories “100% organic” and “organic” may display the USDA Organic Seal. Other foods with varying levels of organic ingredients may be labeled as follows:

100% Organic: Made with 100% organic ingredients

Organic: Made with at least 95% organic ingredients

Made With Organic Ingredients: Made with a minimum of 70% organic ingredients with strict restrictions on the remaining 30% including no GMOs (genetically modified organisms)

Contains Organic Ingredients: Products with less than 70% organic ingredients may list organically produced ingredients on the side panel of the package, but may not make any organic claims on the front of the package.

Written by Camille Kapaun and Victoria Posmantur

Camille Kapaun and Victoria PosmanturCamille Kapaun and Victoria Posmantur are juniors a The Lovett School, a high school in Atlanta, GA. They are young leaders in their community who are already interested in sustainable living. Both are currently involved in creating food awareness at their school by hosting a day where organic farmers and local business will prove that living a healthy, sustainable lifestyle is easier than the average high schooler may think!