What do you Know About Organic Foods?


Consumers continue to demand a greater variety and quantity of organic foods.  According to the Organic Trade Association, U.S. sales of organic food and beverages have grown from $1 billion in 1990 to $26.7 billion in 2010.  But are organic foods healthier for consumers, and are they worth the sometimes higher cost and shorter shelf life?

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What is an organic food?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines organic as “a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods. These methods integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster recycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.”

In general, the average consumer knows that organic foods have been produced without certain kinds of fertilizers and pesticides, certain synthetic additives, or artificial sweeteners, colors or flavors.

Are organic foods more nutritious?
The term organic reflects how a food is produced and processed, not the nutritional make-up of a food. There is a prevailing belief that organic food products are somehow healthier, or better for you, than non-organic or “conventional” products.

Recent research, including a 2012 Stanford University study, has confirmed that organic foods are no more nutritious than conventionally prepared foods. An organic cookie, for example, may contain no artificial ingredients, yet has a comparable amount of sugar and fat, and essentially the same nutritional value as its conventionally prepared counterpart. In most instances, a cookie is still a cookie, and candy is still candy.  An “organic” label does not necessarily make the product healthier.

Which foods - conventional or organic – are safer to eat?
Conventional food products must adhere to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards. Organic food is subject to the same FDA standards, as well as USDA regulations for organic labeling.  Organic and conventional products are both safe for consumption.

Are some foods better if they are labeled “organic”?
Some fruits and vegetables, especially those without a shell or exterior that is peeled away before eating (such as oranges, bananas, peas or avocados), may be ideal if grown organically.  Tea leaves, for example, are often grown with the assistance of pesticides, and not washed before packaging.  With tea, an organic product may also be ideal.

Why isn’t all food organic?
In general, organic food is more expensive and more difficult to find.

Organic foods often are more expensive because of the more complicated growth and packaging, and a more lengthy regulatory process. In contrast, conventional foods rely on economies of scale and are more consistently affordable.  In addition, some organic foods can be more difficult to find in general grocery stores, and because not all have preserving ingredients, have a shorter shelf life.

Are organic foods the future?
Given the current practices of how food is created and distributed, it is not realistic to convert all of the nation or world’s food production into organic food.  Feeding the world’s growing population requires foods that can be preserved, and affordably produced, processed and distributed.  Until that changes, there remains a place in the food market for both organic and conventional foods.

Source: Kantha Shelke, PhD, IFT Spokesperson

Read more:
IFT’s Status Summary on Organic Foods
The USDA’s National Organic Program
Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
Organic Trade Association
Stanford University study on nutritional value of organic foods

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