What Does Organic Really Mean?:

April 15, 2015
USDA Organic

This weeks blog post come from a past intern Brittany Biesterfeld. Today Brittany shares information and thoughts around the definition of organic.

You might find yourself at the grocery store and in need of cherry tomatoes. In front of you, you have two options: cherry tomatoes or organic cherry tomatoes. Both tomatoes are red, and shiny, so what’s the difference? What does that organic label really mean?

Organic produce and other ingredients, certified by the USDA National Organic Program, is “produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.” The reason it does not ban all conventional pesticides is due to the few that are organically approved under limited circumstances and conditions.

Animals on organic farms, like those on conventional farms, that are used for meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy. However, organic livestock are not given growth hormones or antibiotics.

So in a general sense, organic food is simply food that is grown naturally.

And not only is it farmed without manmade “helpers”, but it strives to be environmentally friendly as well. Organic farmers understand the importance of environmental quality for future populations, which is why most invest in renewable resources, such as solar and wind energy. They also practice soil and water conservation to preserve their land and water sources. One example of this practice is a buffer strip. Buffer strips are areas of land that are made up of permanent vegetation that act as erosion control and water protection for the farm. 

Certifiers approved by the government inspect these organic farms to determine whether or not they are following the standards of the USDA to ensure the most reliable organic labeling for consumers.

There are three different ways an organic food product can be labeled:

  •  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 genetically modified organisms (GMOs). There is also regulations on placement of this term on the packaging. It is allowed to be listed on the side of the product, but not on the front.

Another common question in regards to organic food is its nutrition value. Does organic food provide better nutrition? The answer isn’t yet clear. There has not been significant evidence proving that organic foods are more nutritious than conventional food. If you’re not just interested in the nutrition aspect, there are some other considerations like pesticides, food additives and the environment to consider. 

So, where exactly can we find all these naturally grown, environmentally-friendly foods locally?

  • In all 4 of UCSB’s Residential Dining Commons- each hall has a variety of organic produce
  •  At UCSB’s Farmers Market every Wednesday 11am-3pm between Campbell Hall & North Hall
  •  At the Isla Vista Co-Op located right off campus on Seville Rd.

To learn more information on organic food and the USDA National Organic Program, click here: http://www.organic.org/home/faq

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