OMG, Organic Produce! What Does It Really Mean?

Organic produce at market
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Organic produce is better for you than conventionally grown produce. No, it’s not. Yes, it is…OMG! Are you following?

I hope so, because to say the word organic is ubiquitous in today’s market place would be an understatement. The plethora of contradicting information is enough to make you want to throw in the organic towel (but, please don’t). Hang in there with me and I pinky swear that by the time we’re done, you’ll be a much smarter and savvier shopper.

Organic Labeling for Food & Agricultural Products

Many products use the word “organic” on their packaging. But, unless the label is verified by a third party certifying party or another independent inspection organization, the term is not a reliable indicator of a safe and green product. That’s because there is no way to guarantee that it was cultivated without pesticides or doesn’t contain harmful chemicals.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program (NOP) creates the laws that regulate the creation, production, handling, labeling, trade, and enforcement of all USDA organic produce products. According to the NOP, the organic standards must be verified by a USDA-accredited certifying agent ((e.g. Oregon Tilth (OCTO)) before products can be labeled USDA organic produce.

The standards of using the word and/or USDA organic logo are regulated in three main areas:

  • Organic Crops
  • Organic Livestock
  • Organic Multi-Ingredient Foods

As part of the USDA organic standard requirement, most synthetic and petroleum derived pesticides and fertilizers are prohibited for use in organic production. Overall, organic operations must demonstrate that they are protecting natural resources, conserving biodiversity, and using only approved substances.

What does this really mean? Basically, no hormones, no antibiotics, no genetically engineered seeds and cannot be grown with most synthetic fertilizers or toxic pesticides.

Secrets to Savvy Shopping

While most organic food typically carries a price premium (at least for now), you can protect yourself without breaking the bank.

If you aren’t already familiar with the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce – it’s time to get familiar. EWG annually rates produce pesticide residue levels from highest to lowest.  It’s fascinating stuff that can offer you a shopping (and savings) advantage!

You can also use this guide below to help you decipher what the price lookup (PLU) numbers on the produce stickers mean:

  • A 4-digit code indicates the produce is conventionally grown.
  • A 5-digit code starting with #9 indicated the produce is organically grown
  • A 5-digit code starting with #8 indicates the produce is genetically modified (GMO or GE)

Stay tuned for Part II to discover the four organic labeling categories and how all of this all relates to your personal care products!

Feature image courtesy of Jamie McCaffrey

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Lisa Beres
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Lisa Beres

Lisa Beres is a healthy home expert, Baubiologist, published author, professional speaker and Telly award-winning media personality who teaches busy people how to eliminate toxins from their home with simple, step-by-step solutions to improve their health. With her husband, Ron, she is the co-founder of The Healthy Home Dream Team and the 30-day online program Change Your Home. Change Your Health. She is the author of the children’s book My Body My House and co-author of Just Green It!: Simple Swaps to Save Your Health and the Planet, Learn to Create a Healthy Home! Green Nest Creating Healthy Homes and The 9 to 5 Greened: 10 Steps to a Healthy Office. Lisa’s TV appearances include "The Rachael Ray Show," "Nightly News with Brian Williams," "TODAY," "The Doctors," "Fox & Friends," "Chelsea Lately" and "The Suzanne Somers Show."
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