What’s the difference? Is there a difference? We’re here to help you understand that there is a difference!
When products are labeled with the USDA Organic symbol, here’s what you can expect and trust:
- No toxic synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fumigants
- No chemical fertilizers or sewer sludge used as fertilizer
- No planting of genetically engineered crops or use of cloned animals
- No synthetic hormones or antibiotics
- No artificial preservatives
- No artificial colors or synthetic flavors and sweeteners
- No trans fats
- No irradiation
And what is the definition of “natural?” Well, it varies. According to the USDA, there is no clear definition, nor any enforceable standard within the food industry, though many natural products are marketed as “sustainable” with one or more of the following claims:
- No pesticides or artificial chemicals
- No artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, preservatives, or other additives
- “Family farm” raised
- “Only natural ingredients”
- “Whole ingredients” or “natural” foods
- “GMO free”
But “natural” foods are often grown on farms applying synthetic pesticides, including several posing risks to people and the environment. “Natural” foods are manufactured from crops grown with conventional, energy-intensive fertilizers, and frequently contain one or more products derived from genetically engineered corn or soybeans.
“Natural” foods often do contain one or a few ingredients grown using sustainable agriculture methods, both avoiding applications of dangerous chemicals and protecting soil and water resources, but what about other ingredients with hard to pronounce names buried in the ingredients list?
The world of “natural” foods gets even murkier on farms raising livestock, where claims are made implying that animals are raised in “natural” settings and are not given drugs and high-energy feeds to promote rapid growth. Some brands selling “natural” meat and dairy products do require farmers to not administer low doses of antibiotics to boost animal growth, while others discourage use of added hormones, but these claims are not backed up by meaningful enforcement and penalty provisions.
Only organic requires farmers to develop and follow a detailed farm system plan, and inspects farmers every year to make sure they are following all organic requirements set forth by the USDA. Those that don’t lose their certification and may no longer display the organic seal on their product labels.
These are the reasons people should seek out products bearing the organic label whenever possible. Organic food and farming is the safest and surest way to promote both your health, and the health of farmers, animals, and the environment. It’s as simple as that.