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Food that has been labeled "organic" has been grown
or raised without chemical fertilizers, pest killers (pesticides), weed
killers, or drugs.
This means that farmers and ranchers who grow
Some countries, including the United States, have rules
that govern when a farmer or rancher may use the
"organic" label. Before a grower can use that label, a
government inspector goes to the farm to make sure that the rules are being
Don't assume that food labeled "natural," "sustainable," "hormone-free," or "free-range"
is organic. The U.S. does not regulate the use of those labels, so anyone can
Picture of the
organic food seal adapted from the USDA National Organic Program. Available
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has developed labeling
organic foods. A seal and the word "organic" can be
displayed on organic foods. This use is voluntary, so some organic foods may
not be labeled as such.
Single-ingredient foods. The word "organic"
and the seal may appear on fruits and vegetables and on packages of meat,
cartons of milk or eggs, cheese, and other single-ingredient foods that are
grown or raised organically.
Multi-ingredient foods. All ingredients or
some of the ingredients in a food may be organic. Look for the
A regular food item that costs $1 may cost $1.50 or
even $2—twice as much—when it's grown organically. There are many reasons for
the higher cost, including these:
Although organic food can cost more, you may be able to
save money by shopping around.
You may be better off buying from
local farms and ranches, whether they're certified organic or not. Many small
farms use organic methods but cannot afford to become certified. Food from
local farms is also likely to be fresher, which means it will taste better and
may even cost less. Visit farmers' markets to find locally grown food.
More and more organic foods are showing up in the
produce aisles of local grocery stores. It can be confusing to know when to buy
organic versions of your favorite foods. Many people buy organic food because they are worried
about the environment. And many people buy organic food to avoid chemicals, especially
pesticides, in their food.
You may have these questions about
You can avoid pesticides by buying organic food. But
organic food can be hard to find, and it often costs more.
are worried about pesticides but want to save money, you could buy organic
versions of only the foods you eat most often. Or you could buy organic
versions of only those foods that have the most pesticides when grown on
According to the Environmental Working Group, a
nonprofit group that analyzes the results of government pesticide testing in
the U.S., these are the 12 fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide
levels, in order from most to least:
© 2009 Environmental Working Group. Adapted with
If you don't want to buy organic food, there are
other steps you can take to lower the amount of pesticides on your food:
Remember that eating nonorganic fruits and vegetables,
even those with higher pesticide levels, is better than not eating fruits and
vegetables at all.
GMO stands for "genetically
modified organism," which is a plant or animal whose DNA has been changed in a
lab. Scientists can take genes from one type of organism and put them in
another. Many people believe that GMOs make food healthier or last longer. Many
of the foods in our food supply contain GMOs.
But some people
worry that not enough testing has been done to know whether GMOs are harmful.
In most countries, foods that are labeled "organic" are not supposed to contain
You may see food labels that say "no GMO," "non-GMO,"
or "GMO free." This is a claim by the maker that the product does not contain
any GMOs. There is some debate, though, about how accurate such labels are.
Organic foods may come in contact with GMOs even though the farmer or grower
follows the rules for organic farming.
This Web site has information on nutrition, healthy
eating, exercise, and food safety. You can use an e-mail form to ask a
The USDA food guide website provides many
options to help people make healthy food choices and to be active every day.
Enter your age, gender, and activity level to get a food plan specific to your
needs. You can also print out worksheets for tracking your progress and goals.
On this website, you'll find answers to many of your questions about healthy
Other Works Consulted
Dodd JL, Taft Bayerl C (2008). Is it really organic
and is it healthier section of Nutrition in the community. In LK Mahan, S
Escott-Stump, eds., Krause's Food and Nutrition Therapy,
12th ed., p. 331. St. Louis: Saunders Elsevier.
Environmental Working Group (2010). Shopper's Guide to Pesticides. Available online: http://static.foodnews.org/pdf/EWG-shoppers-guide.pdf.
U.S. Department of Agriculture (2008). National Organic Program: Background and history. Available online: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3004443&acct=nopgeninfo.
February 4, 2011
Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine & Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
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