What Exactly is “Organic” Food? Since we’re hearing so much these days about our food being grown and raised in modified ways, many of us are out looking for labels that indicate more health-conscious choices. Maybe the labels say “free range”, “organically grown”, “antibiotic free”, or “non-GMO”… words mostly unheard of 10 years ago. What do all these terms mean in relationship to “organic food”?
For food to be truly organic is different than just calling it health food. It must meet specific production standards which vary from what has become the normal process over the last thirty or so years. It’s not so much that the foods themselves are bad – it’s the modern technological preparation and alteration that gets us.
How to tell if a food is really “organic”
Here in the United States, food must be certified organic through the National Organic Standard (NOS) Program, created to comply with the Organic Food Production Act of 1990. But it wasn’t until 2002 that the U.S. Department of Agriculture produced the USDA Organic Seal to place on all foods at least 95% organic.
Organic vegetables, fruits, grains and other crops must be grown without using:
- conventional pesticides
- artificial fertilizer
- human waste or sewage sludge
- food additives
- “ionizing radiation” – energy particles that alter the number of electrons in the item’s molecules and atoms, which is done to change their size and appearance, or experiment with hybrids and taste. This can be harmful to the DNA of human and other animal cells.
For animals to be considered “organically raised”, it means:
- they aren’t given routine antibiotics or growth hormones like steroids
- they continue to be fed their natural, unaltered, non-filler diet
Conventionally raised cows for example, are now for the most part grain-fed rather than their natural diet of grass, plants and shrubs. They are also being given growth hormones. These two things are done to make them bigger and meatier. Antibiotics are administered to prevent them from getting sick on this grain diet which is foreign to their digestive systems. The animal is getting less nutrition from grain – meaning the consumer will get less nutrition also – and the antibiotics from the animal flesh can get trapped in our tissues, making us resistant to antibiotics when we need them.
“Free range” or “cage free” – a term used most often for poultry and egg labels – is a general term meaning the chickens, hens, etc. are allowed outside time instead of being “cooped up”, shall we say. But this doesn’t always coincide with being “organic”. They may still be given antibiotics and GMO-altered grain.
What’s “genetically modified” (GMO) food?
GMO (genetically modified organism) means that genetic engineering techniques known as “recombinant DNA technology” have been used to combine DNA from different sources and inserted “in vitro” into one molecule of a plant or animal. This could mean that both the animal and its food have been genetically modified. Concerns are turning up about new allergens, increased toxicity and further decreased nutrition from the GMO process. In the U.S. and most other countries, organic foods are not allowed to be genetically modified.