When Is Buying Organic Worth It?


by Brandi Savitt – revised April 3, 2014

All Organic Foods Are Not Created Equal

Many of us insist on buying organic – but how many of us really know what that label means?  The term “organic” refers to how a product is grown and processed, as well as the integrity of its ingredients, but did you know that the USDA has different standards for organic labeled products?  So, before you spend buku bucks on shopping for food labels that sound healthy – but may not be what you’re looking for – get informed!

The Many Meanings of Organic

  • Under the USDA, “Certified Organic” means that 100% of ingredients (excluding water and salt) must be organic.
  • However, the “Organic” label alone means that at least 95% of the product’s ingredients (excluding water and salt) must be organic.
  • You may also see a “made with organic ingredients” label.  These products must use at least 70% organic ingredients to qualify.

Organic Produce

Produce labeled USDA Organic must be grown without: pesticides, genetically modified organisms, or synthetic fertilizers. They also must use sustainable farming practices and methods.  Note: If you want to double check if your celery or apples are organic, the code on the label will start with the number”9″.  The code for non-organic produce begins with number “4″.

Organic Livestock & Dairy

Meat and poultry labeled USDA Organic are required to be fed 100% organic feed and have access to the outdoors (this does not mean that the animals are grazing leisurely in a pasture all day..).  The animals also may also NOT be given any antibiotics or growth hormones.

Grass Fed

By definition a “grass fed” animal is one that is raised primarily on ranges rather than in a feedlot – which means that they can be contained and still show this label – as long as they are allowed to graze.  The USDA defines “grass fed” as it applies to labeling but does not regulate it in any way.  Grass fed does not mean the meat is organic!

Free Range & Cage Free

For a product to be labeled “free range” or “cage free, the animals cannot be contained in any way and must be allowed to roam and forage freely over a large area of open land. However, this label is very minimally regulated.  The USDA only requires that the producer be able to demonstrate that the animals are allowed access to the outside and are not restricted to a contained.  This loose level of regulation has allowed producers to keep animals closely confined, but without cages, and still use the label “cage free.”

When Does Buying Organic Really Matter?

If health is your top concern, eating unprocessed whole foods – as close to the source as possible – is the key.  And you certainly don’t won’t those foods filled with hormones and pesticides.  Spending extra money on meat, poultry and dairy that is free of these chemicals is TOTALLY worth it.  This goes for fruits and veggies too, but some produce is  naturally safer than others…

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4 Responses to “When Is Buying Organic Worth It?”

  1. louie says:

    Very informative….Thanks for the research. Would like to hear you expand also on the naturally safer fruits and veggies.

  2. Chris says:

    The FDA has nothing to do with the National Organic Program (NOP). It is solely under the jurisdiction of the USDA-AMS.

  3. carol says:

    This was very informative. I will make a copy and keep it in my wallet. My son eats tons of apples and celery. I will most definitely buy organic from now on.

    Thank you!!

  4. Cor says:

    This is fantastic!!
    I will print it out and think of fab and fru whenever I go to the market!!
    Thxs Cor

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