Organic, USDA, Natural, Local… better understand labels to better fill your plate.
The organic market is doing well, and even better and better, with a real culture of “good in your body, good in your head”. However, there are many food labels, and alongside the “organic” there is a set of related acronyms that can sometimes be confusing. So, to see more clearly and know what you put in your shopping cart, read this instead…
What does organic mean?
The term organic (or organic) refers to the way in which the product has been grown or raised: as naturally as possible, with respect for nature and animals, and for our health. The organic cultivation method consists of using the recycling of natural organic materials and crop rotation rather than synthetic chemicals that boost yield.
In concrete terms, organic agriculture is guaranteed:
- Without chemical fertilizer.
- No GMOs or growth hormones.
- With as few pesticides as possible and using natural methods.
As far as meat and dairy products are concerned, organic is the key:
That the animals have not received any pesticides, hormones or chemical treatments.
- That the animal feed itself is organic.
- That the animals are raised in the open air and not in batteries.
- The organic… and the others 100% Organic: The product contains only organic ingredients. It is therefore entitled to be stamped “USDA Organic”.
Organic: The product is at least 95% organic. The remaining 5% must be substances approved by the NOP (USDA National Organic Program). Such a product can also qualify for the “USDA Organic” label, which guarantees that at least 95% of the ingredients used are organic).
Made with organic ingredients: This label indicates that the product is composed of at least 70% organic ingredients. It is also mandatory that three of these ingredients be visibly stated on the package. These products are not allowed to use the USDA Organic label.
Locally grown: This mention simply means that the production was grown in the area (at the neighbour’s… or on American territory). Conclusion: Tomatoes have (a little) more taste and chicken less muscle, but there is no quality label or standard for “local” products. However, if you are a chauvinist or want to help your neighbour sell her turnip production, go shop in a Farmer’s Market, which specializes in these local products.
Special for meat and dairy products
The “organic” label looks a little different when it comes to meat and dairy products.
Natural – Your ground beef has received a “minimally processed”, it does not contain any artificial colouring, flavour enhancers, preservatives or any other artificial ingredients. However, the animal may have received treatment to accelerate its growth.
Grass-fed – The animal was fed exclusively on grass or hay. This also means that the cattle have been raised outdoors.
Free range – Beware of this name, as it simply indicates that the animals had access (even very short) to the outside during the day. Similarly, the notion of “access” is not defined by American law.
No hormones added – Since the United States allows the use of growth hormones for beef and dairy products, it is always a good idea to focus on products with this label. On the other hand, it is useless for meats such as pork because American law theoretically prohibits the use of such substances for this breed.
On the early side, each fruit and vegetable is generally labelled with a series of numbers indicating the production method used:
If the series starts with a 9: the method of cultivation of the product is organic.
If the series starts with a 3 or 4: the method of growing the product is conventional.
If the series starts with an 8: the product is genetically modified (and you may soon be too).
The organic whole?
Organic is good, but organic is expensive. So without an adequate budget, it is sometimes necessary to make choices.
But rest assured, if organic is (highly) recommended for some products, conventional food remains satisfactory for others.
The fruits and vegetables below receive a high level of pesticides when grown, so it is better to buy them organically:
The level of pesticides used on the fruits and vegetables listed below is less important, particularly because of the thickness of their skin, which protects them from babies.
Organic foods that are less harmful but not more nutritious
Researchers at Stanford University analyzed the levels of nutrients and contaminants in organic and conventional foods.
Organic foods contain as expected less pesticides and other contaminants, but the demonstration of the health benefits of consuming them has not yet been demonstrated. Researchers at Stanford University in California reached this conclusion by analyzing 17 studies in humans and 223 studies on nutrient and contaminant levels in food.
Published in the September 4 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, this article therefore covers both the comparative composition of organic and conventional foods, for which the medical literature is rather abundant, and the beneficial effects on consumers, for which studies are much rarer (three have been analyzed) and especially only cover a few years. It is therefore difficult to be able to judge on the medium or long term.
From a nutrient perspective, Dena Bravata and her colleagues’ analysis did not find any major differences between the two types of foods, such as vitamin D, protein or fat content. Organic products have been found to contain more phosphorus – but phosphorus deficiencies are not widespread, the authors argue – and some studies show that organic milk is richer in omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to have a protective effect on the cardiovascular system. It also benefits organic products for their phenol content, which are expected to contribute to cancer prevention.
FEWER CONTAMINANTS IN ORGANIC PRODUCTS
Contaminants are less present in organic foods. The risk of finding pesticides in organic products is 30% lower than conventional foods, knowing that accidental pesticide contamination is possible.
Although the measurements on conventional foods in the studies analysed were below the permitted limit values, two studies in children consuming or not consuming organic products found lower pesticide residue values in those on the organic diet.
Finally, organic chicken and pork expose consumers to antibiotic-resistant bacteria less, although the risk of contamination by Escherichia coli bacteria is not different between the two types of foods.
However, the authors of the study believe that, despite extensive analyses on their part, the differences observed are not clinically significant. In other words, the health benefits of consuming fruit and vegetables, regardless of how they are grown, would outweigh any differences that may have been objectively identified.