Organic Vs. Natural

Confused? Many people are.

Surveys conducted by advertising agencies found that many consumers trust the term “natural” more than “organic” because they believe natural is more regulated. Just the opposite is true. “Natural” and “organic” are not interchangeable terms. You may see “natural” and other terms such as “all natural,” “free-range” or “hormone-free” on food labels. These descriptions should be truthful, but don’t confuse them with the term “organic.” Only foods that are grown and processed according to USDA organic standards can be labeled organic.

In order for a product to display the official USDA organic emblem, farmers and manufacturers must verify through an independent auditing agency that production has met all the organic guidelines set by the USDA. Meat, dairy and egg products must come from animals that were given access to exercise, sunlight and pasture to graze in. The animals cannot be treated with antibiotics or growth hormones, and their feed must be certified organic and free from animal by-products and genetically modified organisms. Certified organic products come from farms that do not use synthetic herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers or genetically modified seeds for at least 3 years. Organic processed foods must contain at least 95% organic ingredients.

The USDA definition of “natural” applies to how the animal product was processed instead of how it was raised. Farmers and manufacturers can apply the natural label when their product contains no added colors or artificial ingredients, and have not been processed in such a way as to fundamentally alter the raw product (minimally processed). Neither the USDA or FDA regulates or defines the term “natural”, nor do they require independent inspections or proof of processing, leaving the decision up to the manufacturer. It has become a catch phase on labels as a marketing campaign to sell to the more health conscious public who may not understand the difference.

Organic suppliers are the most heavily regulated and subject to announced and unannounced certified inspections to ensure they are adhering to the USDA organic standards. So when you are looking at the cost difference between a “natural” and “organic” product, you can understand why organic generally costs more but has the health benefit you were wanting in the first place. The organic label promises you that your food contains no toxic pesticides, growth hormones, petroleum based fertilizers, artificial colors or flavors, artificial preservatives, irradiated ingredients or genetically modified organisms.

Why is organic better than conventional or natural? Pesticide and fertilizer runoff from farmlands wash into rivers and lakes contaminating and destroying habitats. Many pesticides are also toxic to humans using them or living near farms. They have been linked to respiratory problems, neurological disorders and cancer. Organic farmers concentrate on soil and water conservation, along with humane treatment of livestock.

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Referenced article: National Resources Defense Council, October 2009 by Solvie Karstrom

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