What is "Organic" Food?
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:
While you may see labels that assert that a food is "natural," "pesticide-free," or "hormone-free," these terms should not be considered synonymous with the term "organic". The USDA defines organic foods as products that are at least 95% organic according to the standard usage of the term. If manufacturers wish, they may use the USDA organic seal when marketing their products. Products that contain 100% organic ingredients may be labeled as "100% organic." Use of the USDA seal is not mandatory, however, so you may not see the seal on all organic products.
In the U.S., the most commonly purchased organic foods are fruits and vegetables, which account for over 70% of organic food purchases. Because of the standards required to produce organic foods, these foods are generally more expensive than their non-organic counterparts.
While the USDA strictly regulates the use of the term organic in reference to food products, the agency itself does not make any claims that organic foods are healthier or safer than foods that do not carry this label.
For related information, please visit the Nutrition Center.
Reference: Organic food standards and labels: The facts. USDA Web site, accessed June 7, 2006.
Last Editorial Review: 6/9/2006