If you’re anything like us, you’re probably trying to find ways to eat healthier. There are a lot of different terms that imply one food is better than another, but what do they actually mean? Local, all natural, organic, farm fresh, pesticide free, etc. While several of these terms may apply to the same product, they are not interchangeable.
One of the most confusing words when it comes to food is organic. The confusion probably comes from the ambiguity of the term. What one person considers organic may not be what another considers organic. Even countries vary with their definition of this label. We’re going to break down what are organic foods, and what organic means.
What Are Organic Foods?
Organic foods are foods that are produced according to organic farming standards. These standards differ slightly from country to country, but many countries do have strict criteria that farmers have to meet in order to label food as organic.
In Canada, you can see two types of organic food. You can have whole food that is labeled organic. This means it meets the Canadian government’s organic standards. The other label you might see is if a multi-ingredient product, like cereal, contains organic ingredients. Multi-ingredient products need to contain 95%+ organic ingredients to be labeled organic. Products with less than 95% organic ingredients can still be labeled saying it contains organic ingredients if the percentage is clearly labeled up to 70%. Anything under 70% is not considered organic.
Organic food can refer to fruits or vegetables, grains, starches, meats, or dairy from organically raised animals.
What is Organic Farming (Organic Production)?
If you are going to fully understand what are organic foods, you have to understand organic production. According to the Canadian Government Standards Board, “organic production is a holistic system designed to optimize the productivity and fitness of diverse communities within the agro-ecosystem, including soil organisms, plants, livestock and people. The principal goal of organic production is to develop enterprises that are sustainable and harmonious with the environment.”
The standards of organic production are regarding how the farming is conducted. Organic farming is about being as environmentally friendly as possible. A government label that says something is organic has no claim on the health, safety or nutrition of the product. It just means it meets the government’s organic criteria.
Canadian Organic Growers lists 7 fundamental principles of organic production:
- Protect the environment, minimize soil degradation and erosion, decrease pollution, optimize biological productivity and promote a sound state of health.
- Maintain long-term soil fertility by optimizing conditions for biological activity within the soil.
- Maintain biological diversity within the system.
- Recycle materials and resources to the greatest extent possible within the enterprise.
- Provide attentive care that promotes the health and meets the behavioural needs of livestock.
- Prepare organic products, emphasizing careful processing, and handling methods in order to maintain the organic integrity and vital qualities of the products at all stages of production.
- Rely on renewable resources in locally organized agricultural systems.
You can read all of the regulations farmers must meet here.
Why Eat Organic?
Organic doesn’t mean healthy so why spend more money on it? To start off we want to clarify that just because organic isn’t synonymous with healthy, it doesn’t mean organic food isn’t healthy.
Unfortunately, there aren’t enough studies on the health benefits of eating organic foods. That means we don’t have conclusive proof that organic food is better for you. At the same time, the long-term effects of genetically modified foods, or meat pumped with hormones have yet to be determined. Eating organic is one way to cut out additives, whether good or bad.
Even if organically produced food has no additional health benefits, it is proven to be more environmentally friendly. The use of organic fertilizers and additives have been shown to lower the pH levels in soil. It’s also been shown to reduce the amount of harmful metals that plants absorb from the soil.
Our ancestors ate organically. It wasn’t until recently that we started modifying our food in laboratories, and spraying it with chemicals. Until the science gives definitive proof that GMOs are okay for us, we’ll prefer to eat organic.
Buy Organic Food Near You
Check out one of the great local farmers or farmers markets in your area!