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Organic vs. Non-Organic Labeling
2005: Volume 2, Number 1

 

Antonio Jacobs, MS

 

More health and wellness conscious consumers are expressing their concerns about the quality and nutritional value of the food they consume. These health and wellness conscious consumers have led to the development of healthier food products.

 

Terms such as “Fat Free”, “Low carb”, “Sugar Free”, and “Organic" are being used by the manufacturers and produce suppliers to express the improved options and quality in food and nutritional products. These and other nutrient claims must meet specific FDA definitions that include the conditions under which each term can be used.

 

Food and nutrition present many different issues with respect to wellness and public health. These terms are meant to express the improved options and quality in food and nutritional products.  Even savvy consumers often misunderstand what the terms "Organic" and "Organically Grown" mean. The use of the terms “Organic,” "Organically Grown" vs. “Non-Organic” requires education of consumers. These specific designations also work to protect the nutritional needs of all consumers.


The principal guidelines for organic production are to use materials and practices that enhance the ecological balance of natural systems and that integrate the parts of the farming system into an ecological whole. In 1995 the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB)passed the following definition of “Organic”:


“Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and biological activity. It is based on minimal use of of farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony.”


As a labeling term on food labels, "USDA Organic" requires that at least 95% of the product's ingredients have been grown and processed according to USDA regulations defining the use of fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, preservatives and other chemical ingredients. It also denotes products produced under the authority of the Organic Foods Production Act.
To maintain the quality, attractiveness and shelf life of food and nutritional products, certain measures are taken by the manufacturers and produce suppliers.

 

One major issue of debate is the use of artificial fertilizer, growth regulators, and pesticides in the production of produce. Consumers, healthcare professionals and researchers have expressed concern regarding the potentially harmful side effects these materials may produce on human health. For such reasons many consumers purchase “organically” grown and Manufactured Meats and Produce with the belief that these products are healthier and less harmful.

 

Consequently, the demand for "organic" products is growing. According to a statistical research conducted by the USDA, the value of retail sales of organic foods in 2000 was approximately $6 billion, and the number of organic farmers’ increases each year by about 12%.


The organic movement has gathered momentum over the past decade, but a few basic, concerning questions still exist. "Are organic products better for humans and the planet?" and especially “How safe are organic products?"

 

According to Dennis Avery, a former researcher for the Department of Agriculture, organic produce is more likely to be infested with bacteria because it is fertilized with animal excreta, which can contain pathogens. Additionally, the use of growth-enhancing substances, specifically antibiotics, to enhance growth of animals used as human food is illegal in the United States. Antibiotic residue may persist in the carcass of animals and affect antibiotic-sensitive individuals that consume the product (Last, 1998). Finally, while pesticides have been proven to have adverse side effects on human health, their use is strictly regulated and enforced by inspectors of conventional farmers. In fact, John Stossel’s story on Organic Foods in 2000 stated that each year the CDC reports 5,000 or more deaths in the United States as a result of bacteria while no death can be attributed to pesticide poisoning.


Therefore the only the issues of more nutritional value and better for the environment can be argued regarding the use of "organic" vs "non-organic" foods. Regarding the nutritional superiority of organic products, Katherine Di Matteo of the Organic Trade Association (which represents organic growers and retailers) states that “organic foods are as nutritious as any other product on the Market. "

 

Regarding the issue of “healthier for the environment,” Di Matteo claims organic farming is better because it doesn’t require the use of chemicals. However, Dennis Avery, a former researcher for the Department of Agriculture, states that organic farmers waste more land and resources because they lose so much of their crop to weeds and insects. Furthermore, if all farmers worldwide were organic, more than of the world's land area would be used for farming.


Many consumers, healthcare and wellness practitioners believe that "organic" products are better than "non-organic" ones. It would seem that the health and wellness conscious consumers and practitioners alike must continue ongoing evaluation review and scientific research of food, nutrition and health information before reaching any final conclusions.


For More Information
The National Organic Program
National Organic Standards Board
Organic Foods Production Act of 1990
Organic Trade Association
Ellis Hattie. Food Matters: Organic food.


References

Last, John, M, Ph.D. Public Health and Human Ecology.
Appleton & Lange. Stanford, Connecticut. 1998. Pg. 200-21 5.
McAvoy, Susan. Glickman announces new Proposal for National Organic Standards.
USDA.gov. Release number: 0074.00.
Stossel, John. How Good is Organic Food? ABC News, Transcript number: 000707. July 7, 2000.

 

 

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