These days, there is no shortage of food labels in the grocery store: natural, free-range, non-GMO, organic–the list goes on! The organic label is exploding in popularity as consumer awareness of food production practices continues to grow.
A 2018 survey conducted by the Organic Trade Association found that Americans spent nearly $50 billion on organic products last year, and the number of organic-certified farms and businesses grew by 7 percent (1). In fact, studies show people are increasingly more willing to pay higher prices for options they believe to be better for their health (2).
Making sense of food labels and claims can be difficult, so what exactly makes organic food different from conventional food?
What Does Organic Mean?
“Organic” is a label given to a product that has been produced through highly regulated and approved methods. The goal of organic labeling, according to the USDA, is to “integrate cultural, biological and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity” (3).
In other words, as consumer demand for healthy food continues to rise, the USDA hopes to promote healthier farming practices that benefit public health and the environment. Among a number of other regulations, in order for a farm to earn the USDA organic label, “no synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may be used” (4). Produce can only be called organic if it was grown in soil that has not contained any of these substances for at least three years.
What About Meat and Dairy?
Produce is just one piece of the puzzle. When it comes to animal products, organic labeling refers to what animals are f
ed and their living conditions. The USDA requires animals to be “raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors (like the ability to graze on pasture), fed 100% organic feed and forage, and not administered antibiotics or hormones” (5).
Pro Tip When Going Organic
For most people, buying strictly organic can be a challenge. To make the transition a little easier on your wallet, consider shopping by the EWG’s “Dirty Dozen and Clean 15” lists. These guides reveal the most pesticide-laden foods and the cleanest, so you can save money on foods less exposed to synthetic chemicals.
Want more tips for saving money while going organic? Check out our post on eating organic on a budget.