What is "Organic" Food?

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stoppler, MD
Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD

Have you ever wondered why certain foods are classified as "organic?" According to surveys, over half of Americans have purchased organic food products in recent years. Since October 21, 2002, any food that is sold in the U.S. - whether produced locally or imported - must meet specific standards defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to carry the label "organic."

Organic foods are grown and processed differently than regular foods. The USDA definition of organic food states that:

Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled "organic," a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.