Long before the US Department of Agriculture started regulating the use of the word “organic” in 2002, people were already demanding an alternative to conventionally-grown products. And since the standards have been set, demand has grown exponentially, resulting in an organic craze across the world. We’ve got the latest on organic products and standards, and controversy on whether going organic is better for your health.

A Green Thumbs-Up

Believe it or not, farms and products must undergo a 3-year process in order to become USDA certified organic. In order to be approved, crops must not contain or use any GMOs, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, or certain pesticides. In fact, according to Francisco Diez, head of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota, 99 percent of pesticides used in conventional foods cannot be used in organic foods. Livestock cannot be given any antibiotics or hormones, must be given 100 percent organic feeds, and must be allowed outdoors. Organic farms must meet these standards, but as consumers we need to be aware that there are different levels of organic products sold in stores. Some products are 100 percent organic, some have the USDA organic seal (meaning they are made up of 95% or more organic ingredients), and some simply contain organic products. It’s important to be aware of the difference, depending upon what you are looking for in your food. And don’t worry, if a company misuses a label, they can be fined up to $11,000.

Greener on the Other Side?

There’s no doubt that organic products are more expensive than conventional products, and studies have found that people are willing to pay 20 to 25 percent more for organic, but do they provide enough bang for our buck? There are arguments for both sides. Those who favor organic turn to studies conducted by institutions such as Newcastle University, which found that organic foods contain higher levels of antioxidants than conventionally-grown products. They also claim that in conjunction with healthier eating in general, more antioxidants can help reduce neurodegenerative diseases and certain cancers.

However, other studies suggest there is little nutritional difference between organic and conventional products. They argue that though studies show organic produce and animal products may be better, the difference is only slight. For instance, if someone is already eating the suggested amount of servings of fruits and vegetables in a day, an increase in antioxidants would be insignificant. And for those who do not get enough fruits and vegetables, it would obviously make more of an impact. So too, studies have found that organic milk and meat have only slightly more Omega-3 fats, not enough for a noticeable difference; though there is dispute about the effects of pasteurizing milk, as well. There is also a lot of controversy about the effects of pesticides, preservatives, and waxes on conventional produce, but it must be noted that some organic farms still use these chemicals, though in smaller amounts; and the USDA tests conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables every year, assuring consumers that the pesticide residue  is not a safety concern.

Greener Pastures

All in all, people have different definitions of healthy and there is skewed research across the board; so if nothing else, it can be said that organic methods both help preserve the environment and are more animal-friendly. Organic farms help to maintain and even improve soil and water quality, strive to conserve biological diversity, and make the health and welfare of the animals they raise more of a priority. Organic farms undergo several inspections a year, insuring the quality of products, the environment, and livestock. And this, to many, may be enough to join the movement.

Have you recently gone organic? What are your thoughts on the movement?