Since the early 1990s, organic food has regained favor in mainstream America. This trend has increased as people are becoming more aware of potential health dangers from the use of toxic pesticides, growth hormones, cloned and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), as well as pollution-producing and unsustainable farming practices.
In 2014, organics grew 11.3 percent from the previous year, totaling $39.1 billion in sales, according to an Organic Trade Association market analysis. Last year, organic sales made up nearly 5 percent of the total U.S. food market.
Organic products are now available nationwide, and are likely in your neighborhood grocery store right now. Understanding just what organic means, and whether there are benefits in eating organically, as well as knowing just what to look for when purchasing organic products, can all be pretty confusing.
Organic versus Natural
Many people confuse the terms “natural” and “organic,” or think they mean the same thing, but in the retail marketing world, the terms are not interchangeable.
Organic products by definition are natural, however, not all natural products are necessarily organic. To be labeled organic in the United States, agricultural foods, textiles, cosmetics and personal care products must meet strict production and labeling requirements.
Organic refers to the food itself, as well as to how it’s produced and processed.
Organic farmers use methods that recycle resources, and also promote renewable practices and biodiversity without the use of synthetic pesticides, bio-engineered genes, and petroleum-based or sewage sludge-based fertilizers, according the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. The USDA is the federal agency that oversees organic labeling of products.
It also requires organic livestock to have access to the outdoors, and not be given any antibiotics or growth hormones. Unlike conventionally grown food, organic foods are not subject to ionizing radiation, known as irradiation. (More on this later.)