Is USDA certified organic food safer than regular food?

The label may say organic, but you shouldn't believe everything you read. See more pictures of boxed and canned foods.
David McNew/Staff/Getty Images News

Next time you head to your local grocery store, take a look around. You can't make it five feet without seeing a product advertised as "all natural" or containing "multigrain goodness!" Upon further examination of the ingredients list, you'll find that these buzz words are often plastered on processed foods that may be far from good for you. Why? Because there aren't any regulations to stop companies from labeling a product that contains dozens of synthetic ingredients with misleading words like "nature" and "health." And it's not just the wording either -- check out the artwork. It's likely that frozen dinner with a picture of a sun setting over a field of wildflowers is loaded with chemical preservatives and additives that have nothing to do with nature. But, there is one exception to this rule: A label reading "certified organic" can't claim this status if it hasn't been properly certified. Here's what you need to know about certified organic food.

 

What is USDA Certified Organic Food?

The United States Dairy Association can make or break an organic designation.
The United States Dairy Association can make or break an organic designation.
David McNew/Staff/Getty Images News

The United States Dairy Association handles more than just milk and cheese. It also heads up the process of certifying crops as organic in accordance with the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. The act reads like any government document -- not too stimulating. What you need to know is that in order to get certified organic label, the crop must be grown according to the strict standards of the act. We're talking about shunning chemical pesticides, antibiotics, fertilizers and hormones, and embracing minimal processing that doesn't include artificial ingredients and preservatives. If you're a farmer who wants in on the organic game, you need to get an inspector to go over your farm with a fine-tooth comb. The inspector will check out your fields, test your soil, and dig into your processing standards and records. If the farm passes the test, the food it produces is stamped with a certified organic label before it goes out to market.

Health Benefits of USDA Certified Organic Food

So, is a food better for you if it has the certified organic label front and center? There hasn't been any evidence so far indicates that certified organic food is any more nutritious for you than nonorganic foods. Proponents of organic living will say that organic food is inherently better because it isn't treated with chemical pesticides, hormones and preservatives. People who think the organic industry is too hyped point to inconclusive studies on whether or not these additives make a food less healthy. The amount of chemical residue on your broccoli hasn't been proven to present a significant health risk, but who knows what this means over a lifetime of dining? Some people try to support organic farming because of its environmental benefits like conserving water and soil and reducing pollution. Some folks even say that organic foods taste better. One thing you can count on is that the organic choice is going to cost more money -- sometimes a lot more -- depending on what food is in your basket.

Related Articles

Sources

  • "Accreditation and Certification." usda.gov, 2010. http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/ams.fetchTemplateData.do?template=TemplateN&navID=NationalOrganicProgram&leftNav=NationalOrganicProgram&page=NOPAccreditationandCertification&description=Accreditation%20and%20Certification&acct=nopgeninfo
  • Ciampa, Linda. "The Organic Debate: Healthier or not?" cnn.com, 2010. http://www.cnn.com/FOOD/specials/2000/organic.debate.ciampa/index.html
  • "National Organic Program (NOP)." usda.gov, 2010. http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1OB?navid=ORGANIC_CERTIFICATIO
  • "Organic foods: Are they safer? More nutritious." mayoclinic.com, 2010. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/organic-food/NU00255
  • "Questions and Answers About Organic." ota.com, 2010. http://www.ota.com/organic/faq.html
  • "What is organic?" usda.gov, 2010. http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/nop