Organic Vegetables at Sprouts/JoAnn's Food Bites
Food Advocacy,  How Food Works

Everything You Need to Know About Buying Organic

The organic food market in the United States hit $49.4 billion in sales in 2017- a record.

Organic food in 2017 accounted for 5.5 percent of the food sold in retail channels in the United States. Total organic sales in 2017 were $49.4 billion, also up 6.4%, as sales of organic non-food products rose 7.4 percent to $4.2 billion.

I know you see the Facebook posts and hear the television teasers, “are you truly buying organic? Stay tuned for our in-depth report!”

I wanted my own garden to be ORGANIC, but it is not.  I had to use man-made fertilizer to stimulate my tomatoes.Tastemade

Inception of the Organic Label

In 1990, the United States Congress passed the Federal Organic Foods Production Act, which called for national organic food guidelines, including certification of growers and standards for organic food production.

Finally, in 2002, the federal government finalized regulations and put them into effect, as the National Organic Program (NOP).

The NOP is controlled by the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and develops, implements, and administers national production, handling, and labeling standards for all organic products.

A 15-member National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) assists the Secretary of Agriculture in developing standards and advises the Secretary on other aspects of implementing the program.

Guidelines for “Organic” Foods

Standards indicate that any agricultural product that is sold, labeled or represented as 100% organic must be produced and handled in accordance with the requirements specified in the NOP.

NOP’s standards cover all phases of food production, processing, delivery, and retail sale.

This is why “organic” produce is more expensive than its counterparts.  Farmers go to great lengths and bureaucracy to be classified as “organic.”

Farmers and food processors using the “organic” label, must be certified organic by an accredited certifying agent.

USDA Certified Organic / JoAnn's Food Bites


HOWEVER, food producers whose gross agricultural income from organic sales DOES NOT surpass $5,000 U.S. Dollars, but still follow NOP standards CAN use the term “organic,” but not “certified organic.”

Qualifications for “certified organic” include:

  • emulating a natural ecosystem
  • maintain and replenish the soil’s nutrition
  • promote reuse of ecological resources and encourage stability
  • preserve biodiversity

Genetically modified organisms and irradiation are not permitted!

Here is a chart explaining the Organic Label Standards

Organic Label Standards

Materials or practices not permitted in organic farming include:

  • Synthetic fertilizers to add nutrients to the soil
  • Sewage sludge as fertilizer
  • Most synthetic pesticides for pest control
  • Irradiation to preserve food or to eliminate disease or pests
  • Genetic engineering used to improve disease or pest resistance or to improve crop yields
  • Antibiotics or growth hormones for livestock

Organic and Natural – do NOT mean the same thing!

“Natural” and “organic” are not interchangeable terms. In general, “natural” on a food label means that it has no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.

It does not refer to the methods or materials used to produce the food ingredients.

I have a “natural” garden, but not an “organic” garden.

Organic food: Is it safer or more nutritious?

There is a growing body of evidence that shows some potential health benefits of organic foods when compared with conventionally grown foods.

Potential benefits include the following, as compiled by the Mayo Clinic:

  • Nutrients. Studies have shown small to moderate increases in some nutrients in organic produce. The best evidence of a significant increase is in certain types of flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties.  For example, the NatureSweet Eclipses Tomatoes, I previously blogged about, have a much higher nutrient level than their green and red counterparts, due to flavonoids.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. The feeding requirements for organic livestock farming, such as the primary use of grass and alfalfa for cattle, resulting in generally higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, a kind of fat that is more heart-healthy than other fats. These higher omega-3 fatty acids are found in organic meats, dairy, and eggs.
  • Toxic metal. Cadmium is a toxic chemical naturally found in soils and absorbed by plants. Studies have shown significantly lower cadmium levels in organic grains.  The lower cadmium levels in organic grains may be related to the ban on synthetic fertilizers in organic farming.
  • Pesticide residue. Compared with conventionally grown produce, organically grown produce has lower detectable levels of pesticide residue.
  • Bacteria. Meats produced conventionally may have a higher occurrence of bacteria resistant to antibiotic treatment.

Consider buying from a local CSA or farmer’s market.  Read about Community Supported Agriculture Systems here, in a previous JoAnn’s Food Bites post.

What is a Community Supported Agriculture System?

Find a local participating CSA:

Do you buy organic or traditional produce?  I would really like to know…please leave a comment!

Sur La TableSur La Table




One Comment

  • Jeanette Sherer

    Organic food is delicious and healthier than conventional food. I try to feed my family some organic food at every meal. I subscribed to weekly subscription boxes for fresh organic food deliveries every week from Farm Box Direct.

Give me your thoughts...