What Is Organic Food?

And Is Organic Better or Just a Fad?

Growing up, we learned about the food pyramid, the various food groups, and the evils of junk food. Nothing was too complicated, and all were pretty easy to understand. Unfortunately, today, it’s not that simple anymore. Gone are the days when you could just go to the market, buy the freshest ingredients you need for a home-cooked meal, and be sure that everything you’re getting is good for your body. In between checking for the goods’ physical defects, nutrition facts must be read, dietary claims to be understood, and ingredient lists to watch out for. There’s even a new addition in the last decade – the organic certification.

But Why? Is Organic Better for You?

Mass producers have resorted to pesticides, genetic modification, and other chemicals to satisfy the demand for bigger and better yields. Our regular meat supply is no different. Aside from getting exposed to pesticide residues, animals are given antibiotics meant to control diseases that typically occur among confined animals. Factory farm animals are also subjected to cruelty and torturous conditions. These practices maximize output while minimizing cost, effort, and time.

The alarming market condition plus the detrimental environmental effects of conventional farming and animal raising are the reasons that ignited the organic movement. In the US, it started as early as the 1940s but wasn’t officially centralized and adopted until Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) in 1990.

Since the USDA guidelines have been approved and implemented, there was no stopping the organic food industry. Currently, it is now estimated to be worth $32 Billion and is expected to grow exponentially as consumers become more educated and health-conscious. Organic produce, meat, and deli consumption have increased significantly in the past decade.

What Qualifies as Organic Food?

Generally, organic food is produced by farmers and animal raisers who employ the use of environment-friendly methods and renewable resources. Food products must be grown and processed according to federal guidelines to get USDA certification. Companies that handle or process organic food until it gets to various establishments should also comply with strict requirements.

For produce to be called organic, it must rely on natural substances and mechanical or biologically-based farming methods as much as possible. It must be grown on soil deemed “clean” from prohibited substances within three years before harvest. No conventional pesticides should be used. Fertilizers subjected to bioengineering and ionizing radiation are prohibited. In cases when a grower needs to use a synthetic substance for a specific purpose, additional inspection and approval from the regulatory board must be done.

Regulations for organic meat require that animals be raised under living conditions that allow them to behave naturally. Examples are free-range poultry or grass-grazing bovine. For animal meat to be considered organic, they must only be fed 100% organic feed and forage too. They should also not be given hormones or antibiotics, nor should they be exposed to chemicals.

Lastly, multi-ingredient and processed foods with the USDA organic seal must truly be made with all-organic components with some very minor exceptions qualified by inspectors. These foods must be free from artificial preservatives, colors, and flavors.

Other non-food items labeled as organic like those used for body care, household products, beauty, etc. must pass very different sets of regulations and certifications.

5 Advantages of Organic Eating:

  • Pesticide-free produce
  • Higher in nutrients
  • Antibiotic and synthetic hormone-free
  • Non-GMO
  • Environment-friendly
1. Pesticides and other harmful chemicals are not used in growing organic produce.

Organic produce may not be 100% pesticide-free due to the presence of air or waterborne pesticides from conventional farms or the use of some inspector-approved chemicals. Despite that, studies prove that they are still the better choice compared to traditional alternatives. In fact, numerous long-term experiments show that the trace presence of synthetic pesticides in organically cultivated fields is lower by as much as 96.5% compared to conventional farmlands.

Aside from pesticides, we also have toxic soil and heavy metals to worry about. Nearby industrial activities, pollution, chemical spills, and deforestation are just some of the probable reasons for soil toxicity, affecting the quality of produce harvested in those lands. Fortunately, organically grown produce has significantly lower toxic levels than its conventional counterparts. Studies like the 2014 meta-analysis from the British Journal of Nutrition show that organically grown crops are 48% less likely to test for cadmium. A separate study in 2007 published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture also confirmed that organic crops contain fewer nitrates and nitrites.

2. Organic meats are free from antibiotics and synthetic hormones

Due to the harsh and unsanitary conditions that most conventional livestock have to endure, they are often given antibiotics as protection against illnesses. Many animal raisers also use synthetic growth hormones so that the animals (except poultry) produce more milk or gain weight faster.

The FDA already limited and prohibited the use of antibiotics but there are still a lot of loopholes in the legislation. Antibiotics passed on from animal meat to humans via food consumption are believed to contribute to widespread antibiotic resistance in humans. On the other hand, synthetic hormones are linked to ever-increasing cancer cases.

The good thing about organic animal raising is that it focuses on preventive measures like the proper breed selection, a quality balanced diet, and an environment with the right population density. As for medication, organic farms do not administer chemically synthesized drugs to the animals. Some vaccines, however, are conditionally permitted.

3. Organic foods are packed with more nutrients.

This point is quite controversial because it is difficult to make a valid comparison between the two. Nonetheless, there is a lot of evidence to support the idea that organic food has more nutrients than conventional food.

Organic crops have more dry matter, vitamin C, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, essential amino acids, and anti-oxidant micronutrients (like phenols and salicylic acid) than conventional crops. Some vegetables and cereals are also said to have higher quality proteins. As for organic meat and milk, a 2016 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition proves that they have about 50% more omega-3 fatty acids. This is attributed to the way livestock is raised and fed.

4. Organic foods are always non-GMO.

GMO means genetically-modified organism. These plants or animals have been changed via the injection and integration of genetic materials from other animals, plants, bacteria, or viruses. GMOs are called by many names – genetically engineered, herbicide-tolerant, or Bt crops. Genetic manipulation is beneficial for mass producers because of its positive impact on productivity. However, GMOs may cause serious and long-term health problems to humans.

For example, genetically engineered corn contains pesticides that cannot be removed, even by washing. Also, most GM crops can survive spraying of Montsanto’s Roundup pesticide while all the weeds around it die. It is also because of this phenomenon that pesticide-resistant weeds have developed. Thus, GM crops need a special herbicide that may also affect the nearby flora and fauna.

Some tidbits to remember:

All organic foods are non-GMO but not all non-GMOs are organic.
90% of canola oil is genetically engineered.
54% of sugar available in the US market is also GMO.

5. Organic farming is environment-friendly.

Organic foods are produced, manufactured, and distributed using high environmental quality standards. The strict regulations require operators to promote biodiversity, build healthy soils, and consider sustainability.

Organic farming relies on natural methods and techniques like composting, green manures, crop rotation, and biological pest control. As for organic meat production, ecological resources are used. Animals are fed in natural grasslands and by-products with low alternative value and fodder grown without artificial fertilizers and pesticides.

Is Organic Food Really Organic?

1. Labeling Confusion

Some available goods in the market are intentionally or unintentionally confusing. Get one with the USDA “100% Organic” Seal if you want a truly organic food product. Those labeled as “Organic”, “Made with Organic ___”, and “Natural” are also very different.

Organic – This contains no less than 95% organic ingredients. The other 5% must be organically produced unless commercially unavailable.
Made with organic ____ – This contains 70% organic ingredients
Natural – This type of labeling does not have clear restrictions.
Some products and brands are also called “free-range” and “hormone-free,” which can be mistaken for 100% organic. Consumers must be aware of the various classifications. Otherwise, they might feel deceived or short-changed, especially given that organic products are really much more expensive.

Then there are the PLU codes, those mysterious 4-digit codes you find on the stickers of fruits and vegetables. These PLU numbers identify the various types of produce. #4011 is the PLU for a conventionally-grown yellow banana. An organic PLU will have a nine prefix before it, i.e. #94011 signifies an organic yellow banana. A genetically engineered PLU will have the prefix 8 on the number, i.e. #84011 for a GMO yellow banana. So organic fruits and vegetables will have a PLU code beginning with a #9.

2. Nutritional Claims

As mentioned earlier, though there is scientific proof that organic foods have the nutritional edge over conventional ones, there is also evidence that there is no significant difference between the two. One of the numerous studies that support this idea was published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture in 2001. It says that nutritionally important differences between organic and conventional food relating to contents of minerals, vitamins, proteins, and carbohydrates are not likely, primarily since none of these are deficient in typical First World diets, nor are present levels of pesticide residues in conventional products a cause for concern. Really? Any amount of pesticide residues is a cause for concern!

USDA also does not claim that organic food is safer or more nutritious.

3. Environmental Repercussions

Although farming and animal raising in organic systems indeed employ a lot of environment-friendly measures, there are still a lot of adverse effects of this rising global trend.

Products grown and produced in far-flung countries but compliant with USDA’s requirements can still get their seal of approval. This means that these goods still need to be shipped and imported and transferred from overseas, and then state to state, increasing carbon footprint.

The cost for the production of organic beef and lamb and the discharge of nitrogen and greenhouse gases per kilo of meat is much higher than conventional means.

Organic production requires more land which limits its sustainability if space for food production and energy crops is scarce.

Go Organic, Go Local

Given the difficulty and the additional cost that producers have to bear just to get a 100% organic certification, many organic farmers are deciding to shift to other methods. Those who don’t want to comply with cumbersome USDA requirements but would still want to maintain sustainable methods join the Certified Naturally Grown(CNG) program. This program requires peer-to-peer inspection among member farmers.

Aside from joining the CNG, other farmers resort to selling their goods in local organic markets. According to an IRI (a global provider of data analytics) report called the Power of Produce, only 68% of organic food shoppers rely on grocery stores. The remaining 32% opt to purchase from farmers’ markets and other specialty stores. This is good news for small and medium-scale farmers who are exempted from certification anyway and prohibited from displaying the USDA Organic Seal.

Why is it Important to Eat Organic Food with Gallbladder Problems?

One of the most important functions of bile is to remove toxins that accumulate in the liver. With nearly all gallbladder conditions, the bile is sluggish or out of balance. Eating foods that contain pesticides, preservatives, colorings, and other food additives adds to the problem. Eating food in as natural a state as possible takes the burden off the liver, your gallbladder, and your bile.

What’s Your Choice?

There certainly are several compelling reasons why more and more people are joining the organic movement. It is perfect for high-risk individuals like children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with diseases and allergies. Notice that we specified “organic” for certain items belonging to our gallbladder foods list? It is more expensive, yes. If you can afford it, then great! Eat organic! But if there are financial limitations or concerns about availability, you should rethink your options.

The most important items to prioritize are those we consume daily and to know, with organic produce, which ones are more important to buy organic and which ones are less important. For example, thin-skinned fruits like berries and tomatoes allow the pesticides to penetrate to the interior where they can’t be washed off. Thick-skinned foods such as avocados are much more protected. But do what you can to buy organic or CNG at local farmers’ markets, and when you can’t, you can’t. No matter how small a step you take in selecting healthy foods, it’s commendable and a good start.