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Update On Organics

If the world of organic food leaves you mesmerized at the supermarket, you are not alone. Greening Your Life explainsFruit___Vegetables the USDA guidelines and labels for organic food, so shopping healthy for your family can become second nature.

With thousands of products now featuring the organic label, what does “organic” actually mean?  The consumer brochure of the USDA’s National Organic Program explains: “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.”  To be labeled “organic,” a government-approved certifier must inspect the land where the food is grown to make sure the USDA organic standards are being followed. 
Organic products at your local supermarket are labeled under one of four USDA organic categories:

  • “100% Organic” – Product is made with 100 percent organic ingredients. 
  • “Organic” – Product is made with 95-100 percent organic ingredients.
  • “Made with Organic Ingredients” – Product is made with at least 70 percent organic ingredients.
  • Products with less than 70 percent organic ingredients may list these specific ingredients on the back or side panel of the package, but can’t make any organic claims on the front of the package. 

Is it necessary to fill your shopping cart with only organic products?   Though prices have fallen for many organic items over the last five years – some to the point of being the same price as conventional items - many organic items still must charge a premium.  The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has developed a list of the 12 most important produce items to buy organic, considering the high pesticide residue levels found on conventional versions.  These are:  

  1. Apples
  2. Bell Peppers
  3. Celery
  4. Cherries
  5. Grapes (imported)
  6. Nectarines
  7. Peaches
  8. Pears
  9. Potatoes
  10. Red Raspberries
  11. Spinach
  12. Strawberries

A printable wallet guide is available at

Do organic standards ever change?  Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act in 1990, and 12 years later the National Organic Program was launched.  Since then, large companies that want to ride the organic wave but want to avoid the premium for producing these foods have fought the standards. 
In October 2005, an amendment was passed to the agriculture appropriations bill, allowing synthetic ingredients in the nonorganic portion permitted in food labeled as organic.  Many consumers and organic producers are calling for Congress to repeal the change to the appropriations bill, and not allow artificial ingredients in any foods labeled organic. 


Last updated 6-13-2016

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