Organic Foods - Overview
What is organic food?
Food that has been labeled "organic" has been grown
or raised without chemical fertilizers, pest killers (pesticides), weed
killers, or drugs.
This means that farmers and ranchers who grow
- Use only natural pest killers, such as plant
oils, soap, fungus-eating bacteria, or bugs that eat other bugs.
- Use only natural fertilizers, such as manure or
- Feed their animals only organic food.
give their animals antibiotics or growth hormones.
- Don't use
irradiation, which means using X-rays or other types of rays to kill pests,
change the way plants grow, or keep produce from spoiling as fast.
Some countries, including the United States, have rules
that govern when a farmer or rancher may use the
"organic" label. Before a grower can use that label, a
government inspector goes to the farm to make sure that the rules are being
Don't assume that food labeled "natural," "sustainable," "hormone-free," or "free-range"
is organic. The U.S. does not regulate the use of those labels, so anyone can
What is the organic label?
Picture of the
organic food seal adapted from the USDA National Organic Program. Available
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has developed labeling
organic foods. A seal and the word "organic" can be
displayed on organic foods. This use is voluntary, so some organic foods may
not be labeled as such.
Single-ingredient foods. The word "organic"
and the seal may appear on fruits and vegetables and on packages of meat,
cartons of milk or eggs, cheese, and other single-ingredient foods that are
grown or raised organically.
Multi-ingredient foods. All ingredients or
some of the ingredients in a food may be organic. Look for the
- If all ingredients are organic, the seal and
"100% organic" are displayed.
- If 95% to 100% of the ingredients are
organic, the seal and "organic" are displayed. Any remaining ingredients must
consist of approved nonagricultural substances or nonorganically produced
- If at least 70% of the ingredients are
organic, the seal is not displayed, but the package may say "made with organic
- If less than 70% of the ingredients are organic, no
organic claims can be made. But specific organically produced ingredients may
be listed on the side panel of the package.
Why does organic food usually cost more?
A regular food item that costs $1 may cost $1.50 or
even $2-twice as much-when it's grown organically. There are many reasons for
the higher cost, including these:
- Many organic farms are much smaller than
nonorganic food farms.
- It takes more labor to grow plants and
raise animals without the help of chemical fertilizers, pesticides (chemicals
that kill pests), and drugs.
- It can cost organic cattle ranchers
twice as much to feed their animals, because they must use organic
- Conventional, or nonorganic, farmers and ranchers often get
money from the government so that they can sell their food for lower prices.
Many organic farms are too small to get this help from the government.