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Understanding Organic Food
I still get a good chuckle out of a statement that my aunt said to me one day during our discussion about organics (as I was trying to plead my case), she said and I quote, “Well even dog poop is organic!” True enough, true enough. Who am I to argue that?! But I was referring to the foods that we ingest. Learning about organics was another stepping stone in learning to have a healthier lifestyle. If any of you out there eat a high raw diet you may have noticed changes in your body. One thing that I noticed right off was that my sense of smell was heightened immensely! My palate has also changed, even to the point that I can taste the chemicals on conventional produce when we eat out. That has been quite an eye-opening experience.
Organic food has become very popular. As a society we are becoming more and more educated about the foods we eat. But not just in what we eat but what it takes to create that food. We are past the days of just making sure we add 1 or 2 extra carrots to our daily intake and call it good. There is now the question of food safety, nutrition, and sustainability. As the demand for organic food increases so does the production, but currently the demand still exceeds the supply.
What does Organic mean?
- When I refer to the term “organic” I am talking about the way agricultural products are grown and processed. Specific requirements must be met and maintained in order for products to be labeled as “organic”.
- Organic crops must be grown in safe soil, have no modifications and must remain separate from conventional products. Farmers are not allowed to use synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes (GMOs), petroleum-based fertilizers and sewage sludge-based fertilizers.
Not only do we need to worry about whether or not our food is organic or not, we now face GMO foods. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are plants or animals, whose DNA has been altered. These products have undergone only short-term testing to determine their effects on humans and the environment.
(photo credit: Michael Westhoff)
Organic produce = No Pesticides
- Grown with natural fertilizers (manure, compost).
- Weeds are controlled naturally (crop rotation, hand weeding, mulching, and tilling).
- Insects are controlled using natural methods (birds, good insects, traps).
Conventionally grown produce = Pesticides may be used
- Grown with synthetic or chemical fertilizers.
- Weeds are controlled with chemical herbicides.
- Insecticides are used to manage pests and disease.
I want to touch base also on purchasing organic dairy and meats. I realize this site supplies all raw recipes but I know many of my readers out there are not 100% raw and do eat animal products. I do too on occasion. So, I feel that it is just as important to make yourself aware about organic animal products. Even if you don’t eat the following items, please continue to read so you can better educate those around you who have chosen a different eating path.
Organic meat and dairy
- Organic meat, dairy products, and eggs are produced from animals that are fed organic feed and allowed access to the outdoors.
- They must be kept in living conditions that accommodate their natural behavior.
- Ruminants (cows etc.) must have access to pasture.
- Organic livestock and poultry may not be given antibiotics, hormones, or medications in the absence of illness; however, they may be vaccinated against disease. Parasiticide (a substance or agent used to destroy parasites) use is strictly regulated. Livestock diseases and parasites are controlled primarily through preventative measures such as rotational grazing, balanced diet, sanitary housing, and stress reduction.
Organic meat and dairy = No antibiotics, hormones, or pesticides are given to animals
- Livestock are given all organic feed.
- Disease is prevented with natural methods such as clean housing, rotational grazing, and a healthy diet.
- Livestock must have access to the outdoors.
Conventionally raised meat and dairy = Typically given antibiotics, hormones & feed grown with pesticides
- Livestock are given growth hormones for faster growth.
- Antibiotics and medications are used to prevent livestock disease.
- Livestock may or may not have access to the outdoors.
What’s in your meat?
It is helpful to understand what the government allows in feed or to be used in conventional production:
- Dairy cows – antibiotics, pig & chicken byproducts, hormones (for growth), pesticides, sewage sludge
- Beef cows – antibiotics, pig & chicken byproducts, steroids, hormones, pesticides, sewage sludge
- Pigs – antibiotics, animal byproducts, pesticides, sewage sludge, arsenic-based drugs (growth hormones are prohibited)
- Broiler chickens – antibiotics, animal byproducts, pesticides, sewage sludge, arsenic-based drugs (growth hormones are prohibited)
- Egg laying hens – antibiotics, animal byproducts, pesticides, sewage sludge, arsenic-based drugs
Meat and dairy labels: other terms you need to know
The organic label is the most regulated term, but when it comes to meat, we often see many other terms used. In order to make informed choices, it is helpful to know what some of these terms mean.
- Natural – This label means “minimally processed” and that the meat can’t have any artificial colors, artificial flavors, preservatives, or any other artificial ingredients in it. Animals can still be given antibiotics or growth enhancers. For example, this term can be applied to all raw cuts of beef since they aren’t processed.
- Grass fed – This term means that the animals are fed solely on a diet of grass or hay. These animals have access to the outdoors. Cattle are naturally ruminants that eat grass, so they tend to be healthier and leaner when fed this way. In addition, grass-fed beef has been shown to have more of the healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
- Free-range – This means that the animals weren’t confined to a cage and had access to the outdoors. Unfortunately, the animal density can still be very high and the animals may have only short periods outside in an area that’s quite small. It is difficult to tell exactly what free-range means when you see it on meat or egg packaging. You can contact the producer directly for clarification.
- No hormones added – This term is allowed when animals are raised without the use of any added growth hormones. For beef and dairy products it can be helpful, but by law, poultry and pigs cannot be given hormones, so don’t pay extra for chicken or pork products that use this label.
USDA Certified Organic Food Labels
One other quick area to be aware of… When you’re shopping for organic foods, look for the “USDA Organic” seal. Only foods that are 95 to 100 percent organic can use the USDA Organic label.
- 100% Organic – Foods that are completely organic or made with 100% organic ingredients. May display the USDA seal.
- Organic – Foods that contain at least 95% organic ingredients. May display the USDA seal.
- Made with organic ingredients – Foods that contain at least 70% organic ingredients. Will not display the USDA seal. May list specific organic ingredients on the front of the package.
- Contains organic ingredients – Foods that contain less than 70% organic ingredients. Will not display the USDA seal. May list specific organic ingredients on the information panel of the package.