It’s the moment of truth in the grocery store. You’re trying to decide between organic or non-organic. The organic strawberries and chicken cost a couple dollars more, but you’ve heard that organic foods are better for you. Is it worth the extra money?
It’s important to understand what the term organic really means. Organic refers to how a product is grown, not its nutritional value. While farming techniques might vary, there’s no nutritional difference between organic and non-organic foods.
Another thing to keep in mind is that organic doesn’t necessarily equal local. If you want to buy local products, it’s important to know that “local” is not a regulated term and has no clear definition or guidelines. Organic foods don’t always come from places closer to home. You might be surprised at how little many foods in the grocery store travel to get to you, organic or not. Milk is a great example of that. You can see its farm-to-shelf journey here.
The USDA regulates the use of the organic label and outlines specific requirements farmers must meet in order to be certified as organic. Many conventional farmers also use these practices, but the big difference with organic comes from what you can’t do. Here’s the rundown on the main points of certified organic farming:
1. Preserving natural resources and biodiversity
Organic farmers add compost, animal manure and green manure to give the soil nutrients from natural sources in place of synthetic fertilizers. Soil conservation is also part of organic farming standards.
2. Supporting animal health and welfare
Organic farmers try to prevent disease with a healthy diet, a low-stress environment and plenty of exercise to build up strong immune systems in their animals. They may also use certain approved vaccinations and other preventative measures to try to prevent illness.
3. Providing animals access to the outdoors
Livestock on organic farms must have access to the outdoors, including shade shelter, clean drinking water and direct sunlight. Grazing animals, like cattle, sheep and goats, need to have access to pasture during the grazing season.
4. Using only approved materials
To be certified organic, farmers may not use most synthetic fertilizers for soil nutrition, or pesticides for controlling insects, weeds or diseases. Some approved products may be used, but many rely on the PAMS method: prevention, avoidance, monitoring and suppression.
5. No genetically modified ingredients
Organic farms may not plant GMO crops, and livestock may not have any feed that includes GM ingredients. Not sure if GMOs are something you should be worried about? You can get all the facts here.
6. Receiving annual on-site inspections
The application process for becoming certified organic is extensive. In fact, land must be in organic production for three years before it can be certified. USDA inspectors visit the farm each year for recertification.
7. Separating organic food from non-organic food
Organic crops can’t come in contact with unapproved substances, and the seeds and foods of organic and non-organic must not mix. All equipment used for non-organic products must be thoroughly washed each time before it’s used for organic products.
If organic farming practices are something you feel strongly about, then you’re probably comfortable paying more for organic foods. But if your decision is based on nutritional value and safety, there’s no need to pay extra.
According to dietitian and local farmer Charlotte Rommereim, RDN LN LD, “Both organic and conventionally raised foods adhere to standards from the USDA to ensure their safety. Studies show little to no difference in the nutritional content between organic and conventionally raised foods.”
When it comes to making healthier choices, “The goal for a healthy diet pattern is to increase the fruits and vegetables you consume,” said Charlotte. “The health benefits from adding fruits and vegetables to your diet outweigh any difference in the methods by which they were raised, and studies show it is negligible at best. So, increase fruit and vegetable consumption with what you can afford and know that the foods are safe and nutritious whether you buy organic or non-organic.”
Hungry for Truth supports choice. No matter what you pick up at the grocery stores here in South Dakota, you can feel confident it’s safe for you and your family. What questions do you have about how you can make healthy decisions for your family? Leave us a comment here or send us an email to get your answers.
Get more information about organic farming practices and sustainable farming: