Organic Food

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There is a very fine and gray line between organic and health foods. Although the result is the same, the road traveled is slightly different. Organic foods are the fastest growing segment of our agricultural economy. They have moved from specialty shops to mom and pop grocery stores. Retails sales have grown 20% annually for the last decade. 49% of organic retail sales come from mainstream grocers and 48% from natural food stores. Organics are free of chemical preservatives, toxic pesticides and additives. Organic farmers target recyclable resources to conserve soil and water. Bottom line, foods, and some fibers used in non-household products are produced to keep a balance between nature and man. Animals bred for organic consumption are bred sans antibiotics and growth hormones. To consumers worldwide that are worried about the environment organic farming fitís the bill; it allows them to share in the ecological upkeep of the planet.

Keeping it Real

The USDA has placed national standards for foods labeled organic. A government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown. Companies that process organic food for distribution must be certified as well. Take a closer look at some of the requirements. With the prevalence of structured diet plans in our society and due to the fact that 71 million Americans are overweight, consumers are turning to organic meat to aid them in their weight loss goals. In 2003 alone, the sale of organic met products rose by 51%.

Fruits, vegetables and grains must be grown and harvested from fields that have been free of chemicals fertilizers and pesticides for at least three years. Land that is not quite up to standards but is working towards them is given a transitional label.

Dairy products from goats and sheep in addition to cows may be certified organic. These products include ice cream, cheeses, butter and yogurt. Organic and non-organic products must never be mixed. Another important part of the certification process is the humane treatment of animals. Out of pasture exercise, fresh air, clean bedding and water are mandatory. Dairy farmers must also feed their animals 100% certified organic feed that has been produced from regulated land. The land that produces the feed must have met USDA codes for at least three seasons prior to harvesting the crop.

Meat and poultry processing must be done in a certified plant that is regularly inspected. Animals designated for dairy canít be sold for slaughter. Organic animals must be separated from conventional ones and fed organically. Very few processing plants are totally organic so extensive cleaning must be done prior to processing to meet organic specifications.

Down on the Farm

The agriculture department has put into place the National Organic Program, which gives the basis for organic farming techniques. Organic farmers must: Use organic or untreated seeds. Be proactive in soil building, conversation, nutrition. Practice crop rotation, and composting. Vegetable oil is often used in pest management. Processing operations canít use ingredients that are genetically engineered or grown with the use of sewer sludge.

Standards and Practices

There are four categories for labeling of organic products. 100% organic - Must contain 100% organically raw or processed agricultural products. Mostly applies to produce. Organic - 95-100% organic ingredients. Can contain up to 5% non-organic ingredients from a USDA approved list of ingredients and additives. Used only when no organic option is available. Made with organic ingredients - 70-94% organic. Not permitted to use the USDA organic seal. Less than 70% organic - May not carry organic labeling on front panel of product, but the words organic ingredients can be listed on the nutritional panel. Not permitted to use the USDA organic seal.

Organic Food Taste Test

Whether organic food tastes better than conventional is subjective. Those that embrace the organic lifestyle will gladly proclaim and promote the difference in the two. The USDA makes no assertion that organic tastes better or is more nutritious. In regards to their nutritional components (proteins, carbohydrates, etc) they are the same.

Factoring in the Cost

One of the biggest drawbacks to eating organic is the cost. Organic farming is a small industry and is not subsidized like conventional farming. Organic farming also utilizes time consuming and labor intensive practices. This may be the most crucial driver in its higher prices.

Blast from the Past

Decades ago, our ancestors farmed their land and produced fresh and healthy crops. They did it without pesticides, chemicals, artificial colors or ingredients. These hard working men and women ate well from the bounty of the land and seemingly lived longer and healthy lives. There were no government standards to adhere to and they didnít need anyone to tell them much less penalize them for not treating their animals humanely. With all the advances in modern technology, we seem to be missing something. Sometimes we need only look in our past to find it.

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