The true meaning behind foods labeled organic

“There are many food components or contaminants that are natural in our environment, but it does not make them safe,” Sticka said.

Organic is the emerging buzzword of the decade. Encompassing food, clothes and products used on a day-to-day basis, a new economy has emerged under the organic name. According to an article by Leslie Shallcross of the Anchorage Cooperative Extension office, sales of organic food increased 80% between 1997 and 2006.

In its ever-expanding popularity, the organic foods market has taken America by storm. Chain grocery stores specializing in the sale of organic and natural options have opened in neighborhoods across the nation.

However, comparing the definitions of organic and natural may leave some consumers baffled. Kendra Sticka, a registered dietician, said organic is defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) while natural does not have a standard definition.

That means the natural label does not necessarily mean an item is healthy or safe.

“There are many food components or contaminants that are natural in our environment, but it does not make them safe,” Sticka said.

Consider E. coli bacteria. While it is a natural organism, it can wreak havoc over a digestive system.

- Advertisement -

On the other hand, foods labeled organic must consist of at least 95% organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt), according to the USDA. Other non-organic ingredients must be approved by the USDA.

While organic foods have gained a reputation for being optimally healthy, that reputation may not be deserved.

“The research does not show that there are significant nutritional differences between organic and non-organic foods,” Sticka said.

One difference should be less pesticide residue on foods labeled organic. According to Shallcross’ article, organic foods can only have up to five percent pesticide residue while the USDA sets limits for non-organic food imports on a per-crop basis.

Those limits can be found in the Maximum Residue Limit Database (MRLD) on the USDA’s website. The MRLD is a massive search engine containing the connections between pesticide residue allowances in non-organic foods and crops imported for sale to the American people.

Shallcross also reported that the USDA, in conjunction with the Environmental Working Group, compiled a list of foods least likely to be contaminated with pesticide residues. The top 10 on the list included avocado, pineapple, frozen sweet corn and even kiwi.

Buying Alaskan foods gives the consumer a pretty good chance at avoiding pesticides because Alaska doesn’t have infestations of herbivores, according to Sticka.

Nor are Alaskan livestock subject to overcrowding and unsanitary conditions. Instead, Alaskans can eat fresh caught Alaskan salmon, halibut and crab.

Buying organic could also have an unintended influence on the environment.

“The transportation of the food has impact on the environment as well in terms of fuel usage, etc.,” Sticka said.

Importing organic foods may not only have an impact on one’s carbon footprint, but also their wallet. For those on a tight budget, the best option is to buy local. Products with the organic label carry a flashy price tag, not typically within a college student’s budget. Alaskan options allow students to shop cheap while making healthy choices.

Comments are closed.