Today I Learned...

Key Takeaways:
  • Conventional farming uses chemicals.
  • Organic food tends to have a higher nutrient content.
  • Organic produce is nutritionally superior to conventionally grown produce.

f you're like me, you've been hearing about the benefits of organic food for years.

But it's still confusing—what exactly is "organic"? Does it mean that there are no pesticides in my food? Is it better for the environment and my health?

Here's everything you need to know about organic produce:

Organic food is not a fad, but it can be confusing.

The organic food industry is a $63 billion market, and it has been growing at an annual rate of 9%. Organic products are not a fad. However, the definition of "organic" can be confusing and misleading.

Organic food began as an alternative to conventional farming methods in the 1940s when pesticides were widely used on crops and livestock. The term "organic" means that all ingredients were grown without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides—a practice known as “natural” farming today. The term “natural” has no official meaning in the U.S., but USDA standards for organic products require farmers to follow certain practices during production:

  • Grow crops without synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge or irradiation
  • Avoid genetically engineered seeds (GMOs) unless they have been approved by their state department of agriculture
  • Use low-impact mechanical tools such as hand tilling instead of plowing fields with tractors

Conventional farming uses chemicals to kill bugs, weeds and bacteria.

Conventional farming uses chemicals to kill bugs, weeds and bacteria. These pesticides are toxic to humans, of course—but they’re also toxic to the environment!

Organic farmers don’t use these chemicals because they harm people and wildlife. In fact, organic food is safer for both people and animals because it doesn't contain any harmful chemicals.

Organic farms emphasize creating healthy soil.

When you shop at a grocery store or farmers market, look for the “USDA organic” label.

That means the food was produced according to government standards, which include crop rotation and composting. But there are many other ways organic farms differ from conventional ones:

  • Organic farms emphasize creating healthy soil by using cover crops and manure, instead of synthetic fertilizers.
  • Organic livestock ranches don't feed their animals genetically modified grains such as corn or soybeans unless they are certified "organic" themselves (and even then only when there isn't enough pastureland).
  • They also avoid antibiotics in favor of non-drug treatments that promote animal health without compromising human health—for example by vaccinating against diseases rather than giving antibiotics routinely as growth enhancers.

Organic crops are grown in more diversified fields than conventional crops.

Organic crops are grown in a more diversified environment. Conventional crops, by contrast, are often grown in monocultures—that is to say fields that only contain one type of plant. In these monocultures, pest populations tend to grow out of control because they have no competition and no predators.

To combat this problem, conventional farmers will spray pesticides on their fields to kill off pests before they can cause any real damage. Organic farmers can also use pesticides on their plants if necessary—but instead of using broad spectrum chemicals that kill everything within reach, they'll opt for more targeted means of pest control such as ladybugs or beneficial insects (which are naturally attracted to specific plants).

Organic food tends to have a higher nutrient content and occurs naturally in rather than through supplementation.

Organic food is grown without the use of pesticides or fertilizers. This means that it is, in theory, less likely to contain trace amounts of harmful chemicals. On the other hand, conventionally-grown produce may have been exposed to more pesticides than organic food due to lack of regulation by the USDA.

Organic foods are also supposed to be grown without antibiotics or hormones—which means no antibiotics for animals and no added hormones for poultry or livestock. These substances are added because they make animals grow faster and have more babies—but there’s some evidence suggesting that these additives could be unsafe when consumed by humans (or other animals).

Organic food production also forbids chemical food additives like artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners and preservatives; irradiation; genetically modified organisms (GMOs); sewage sludge fertilizers; growth promoters—and any other ingredients not found in nature.

Organic labeling rules are strict and strictly enforced.

There are strict guidelines and regulations when it comes to organic labeling.

The USDA defines organic as food that was grown, raised and processed according to specific standards related to soil fertility and use of additives; the use of sewage sludge in farming practices; handling, processing and packaging practices; pest management; use of pesticides, herbicides or genetic engineering (GMOs); and the prohibition of irradiation.

Organic farmers must follow these guidelines in order to earn the USDA Organic Seal.

Organic produce is nutritionally superior to conventionally grown produce.

Organic produce is grown without synthetic pesticides and herbicides, making it healthier for you to eat. When plants are grown in a more natural environment with fewer chemicals, they're better able to resist disease and pests.

Organic food is also generally richer in vitamins and minerals than conventional food because of the way it's produced. When plants are exposed to fewer chemicals, they can absorb more nutrients from the soil (which means higher levels of vitamins and minerals).

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Jan 11, 2023
Food & Nutrition