Childhood obesity is a hot topic regarding the health of our society's future. Obesity, stress, vitamin deficiency and weight-related diseases are all over the news. Your grocery may hold the answers to many of your family's health concerns. Consumers need to look at more than just what part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "My Plate" they are eating from. The terms "organic" and "natural" taunt us with promises of healthy eating, but what does that really mean?
"Certified organic producers and processors must adhere to rigorous growing and processing standards verified by a third party, either an independent or a state certification organization," explains Barbara Haumann, senior writer and editor with the Organic Trade Association. "'Organic' refers to how products are grown and processed, and the use of 'organic' on the label of a food or beverage product will denote that it meets or exceeds U.S. national organic standards, which begin with how the ingredients are grown and, later, how they are processed and handled."
Organic farms are certified annually by an independent certification agency that has been approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Haumann points out. Soo Kim of the USDA says: "For crop production, standards require that organic crops grow on land without any prohibited substances applied to it for at least three years before harvest and without use of genetically modified organisms, ionizing radiation or sewage sludge and that soil and crop are managed without the use of toxic commercial pesticides. Instead, producers rely on tilling, rotating crops and other approved means."
"Processed food products that carry the organic label must maintain the organic integrity that began on the farm," Haumann says. Kim adds, "In the case of organic livestock, this means no hormones to promote growth, no antibiotics, 100 percent organic feed, no mammalian or poultry byproducts in feed, and year-round access to pasture."
Organically grown and processed foods protect the safety and integrity of the food products we serve our families. They also help protect the environment, because pesticides and other harmful chemicals are not used in the organic science and there is no harmful water runoff carrying toxins into the soil.
There are some who use the terms "natural" and "organic" interchangeably, but experts say they are nothing alike.
"Natural" refers to what is added -- or not added, as it were -- to food. The Food Safety and Inspection Service defines "natural" in the following way: "A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and (that) is only minimally processed" (meaning it hasn't been "fundamentally altered") may be labeled natural.
"The Natural Product Association's Natural Seal is the first and only natural certification in the U.S. NPA has certified nearly 700 products and ingredients since 2008," says Mike Keaton, communications manager for the NPA. "Products certified by NPA must be at least 95 percent natural ingredients or ingredients from natural sources, excluding water. The Natural Seal is awarded to products that achieve the 95 percent science-based standard as certified by independent third-party auditors. NPA-certified products use natural ingredients, avoid ingredients with health risks, don't use animal testing and include a majority of biodegradable or recycled material in the packaging. Products with the Natural Seal list all ingredients on the package label so consumers can quickly and easily make informed decisions."
"Thanks to the growth of private label products, farmers markets, manufacturer coupons and customer loyalty programs, buying organic is easier and more affordable than ever," says Jennifer Rose, manager of the Organic Trade Association's consumer website, http://www.OrganicItsWorthIt.org. To get the best value and highest quality from the foods you purchase for your table, read your labels, and buy food in season and in bulk when possible. Many popular buying clubs are expanding their natural and organic food lines.