What is Organic Food: The Blurry Line of Organics

The organic industry is estimated to be worth over £40 ($63) billion worldwide but what does organic mean to you?

Does it mean the food is healthier? Leaner? Sugar-free? Unprocessed?

The official definition of “organic” is

“Noting or pertaining to a class of chemical compounds that formerly comprised only those existing in or derived from plants or animals, but that now includes all other compounds of carbon.”

Great. I bet that’s really helped you out.

According to Precision Nutrition, to earn the label of “organic” in the U.S., farmers must:
• maintain records concerning the production and handling of agricultural products
• submit to audits conducted by accredited certifying agents
• use organic seeds when available
• feed animals with organic feed for at least 1 year
• give animals access to the outdoors
• feed and build soil matter with natural fertilizer
• use insect predators, mating disruption, traps and barriers to protect crops from pests and disease

Farmers must NOT:
• treat animals with antibiotics, growth hormones, or feed made from animal byproducts
• apply prohibited substances to their land for at least three years prior to harvest
• use irradiation or genetic engineering
• fertilise with sewage sludge

Contrary to popular belief, organic does NOT mean free-range or have many links to animal welfare, although the UK soil association does hold welfare in high regard. Organic is to do with how the animals are fed but they can still be caged and kept indoors, especially in the U.S.

Also, organic farming does not mean that they do not use pesticides. It means that the pesticides that they do use are “natural” instead of synthetic. A pesticide is a chemical aimed at killing insects or warding off any harm that may come to the crops. Unfortunately, these “natural” chemicals that they use aren’t as effective so to compensate the farmers end up using more. Yep. Organic food most likely has more pesticides sprayed on it than conventionally grown foods.

“Natural” pesticides actually have less research on them in regards to the effects on humans. Synthetic pesticides have much more regulation and are far more studied. “Organic pesticides that are studied have been found to be as toxic as synthetic pesticides,” Steven Novella, president and co-founder of the New England Skeptical Society, has said.

The reason that I keep putting natural in quotation marks is that I’m not sure anyone really knows what natural means. The line is a bit blurry on what’s natural and what isn’t.

Labels that state that the product is “100% organic” mean that the product is using 100% organic ingredients, as you would expect. However, most foods are simply labeled “organic” which means 95% of the ingredients must be organic. This is shown on a lot of chocolate bars where the cocoa is organic but the emulsifier, normally sunflower or soy lecithin, is not.

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