Simply stated, organic produce and other ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. Animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones.
The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) defines organic as follows:
Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled "organic," a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.
How do I know if something is organic?
The USDA has identified for three categories of labeling organic products:
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)
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.
Why does organic cost more?
The truth of the matter is that organic food doesn’t always cost more. Some items, such as coffee, cereal, bread, and even hamburger, may cost the same or even less than their conventional counterparts. And, as the demand for organics continues to grow, the cost will continue to come down. When the cost is higher, consider these facts:
Organic farmers don’t receive federal subsidies like conventional farmers do. Therefore, the price of organic food reflects the true cost of growing.
The price of conventional food does not reflect the cost of environmental cleanups that we pay for through our tax dollars.
Organic farming is more labor and management intensive.
Organic farms are usually smaller than conventional farms and so do not benefit from the economies of scale that larger growers get.