What Does "Organic" Mean?

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), established by the U.S. federal government in 1992, helps develop the standards for organic food production. They define organic agriculture as “an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity… based on management practices that restore, maintain, and enhance ecological harmony.”

What exactly does this mean?

Organic foods must be produced, grown, and harvested without the use of most conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients, bioengineering, and ionizing radiation. Organic animal products (meat, eggs, and dairy) must come from livestock raised without the use of antibiotics and growth hormones.

How does organic food labeling work?

  • Foods with the USDA organic seal labeled as being “100% organic” must have at least 95% organically produced ingredients.
  • Foods labeled as “organic” must have at least 70% organic ingredients.
  • Foods with less than 70% organic ingredients can list specific organically produced ingredients on the side panel of the package but cannot make any organic claims on the front of the package.

The USDA still does not claim that organic food is any safer or more nutritious than conventionally grown foods. There are mixed reports about whether or not organic foods are nutritionally superior, but this leads us to a political conversation that is not within the scope of this post. Suffice it to say that I personally make the concerted effort to eat organic as much as possible because I, a person who obsessively studies nutrition and is well-read in the scientific literature, am a firm believer that organic foods are safer, more nutrient-dense, and much, much, much healthier. Conventional pesticides and synthetic fertilizers are toxic and absolutely detrimental to health and GMOs are just plain scary. We simply do not know what the ramifications are of consuming foods that are genetically modified, and I personally have no intention of allowing my body to be a part of that scientific experiment. Organic food is more expensive, yes, but to me it is a worthwhile investment in my health.

What are your thoughts? Where on the conventional vs. organic argument do you stand?