What Do “Organic” and other Food Marketing Terms Mean?

by Donna Quirk, MBA RD LD
Clinical Nutrition Manager

Over the next few weeks, I am going to write about topics related to organic foods.

Because of concerns for personal health and the environment, consumer demand for organic foods is the fastest growing sector in the American food market.

Questions still surround whether or not organic foods are safer, more nutritious, or tastier than conventionally farmed foods. More research needs to be done, but we do know that small children are more vulnerable to pesticide residues and other environmental toxins than adults. Choosing organic foods is one way to lessen their potential effect on a child’s growth and development.

Navigating the food aisle at your local grocery store can be confusing, so here is an explanation of comment terms you may see:

Organic foods are produced without chemical pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge, bioengineering, and ionizing radiation. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy foods come from animals that are not given antibiotics or growth hormones. They must also be fed 100% organic feed.

Organic foods are currently the only foods that cannot include genetically modified ingredients.

Foods labeled “100% Organic” or “Organic” (meaning 95% organic) may use the green and white organic seal.

Foods labeled “made with organic ingredients” must contain at least 70% organic ingredients but may not use the seal.

In the United States, USDA regulations state that Free-Range only applies to poultry and means that the animal has access to the outside. Egg producers are allowed to label eggs from these birds as free-range.

Natural and Whole are terms used to describe and market foods but they have no legal definition. It is generally implied that the food is minimally processed and contains no added artificial ingredients. This could apply to many foods including most of the meats and poultry sold today. FDA and USDA expect the terms to be used in a way that is truthful and not misleading. Hmmm…

Free Range, Natural, Whole, as well as, terms like Grass-Fed, Local, Hormone-free, and Unprocessed are not the same as Organic. If organic is what you want, look for the USDA organic seal.

Next week: What organic foods should I buy?

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