This Is What You’re Paying For When You Buy Organic

Photographed by Ruby Yeh.
More and more of us are willing to fork over cash for foods labeled "organic," but strikingly few of us actually know what organic means, reports Fast Company.
A recent survey from BFG, a brand consultancy, asked 300 people (most of whom were under the age of 35) about their food-shopping habits. Their results showed that about 70% of the respondents were buying something with an "organic" label, but only 20% felt confident they could define the word.
And, we can't really blame them: The world of food labels and their regulation is pretty murky. But, the USDA does have fairly straightforward standards for how these items should be stickered, and strict regulations regarding the required certification process brands need to go through for the privilege of being labeled "organic." In general, organic crops, livestock, and other foods must be able to demonstrate that they're "protecting natural resources, conserving biodiversity, and using only approved substances." That usually includes not using prohibited pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, GMOs, antibiotics, or growth hormones.
However, the different levels of organic labeling in the U.S. do complicate the issue. For instance, "100% organic" is different from just "organic," which is different from "made with organic" and so on. And, while the use of the term "organic" can be regulated to a degree, something like the word "natural" really can't. The FDA says it doesn't have a hard regulatory definition of "natural" when used as a food label, but the term could conceivably be used to denote a product that's free of artificial coloring or flavors.
But, the price of foods claiming to be organic and natural is significantly higher than that of conventionally-grown stuff. So, it's totally valid to be a little concerned about getting what you're paying for. But, hopefully you can take some comfort in the fact that science is looking out for you and you don't necessarily need to always eat everything organic forever. Instead, if you're trying to specifically avoid pesticides, you can focus on consistently buying the organic versions of a few foods — usually the things we eat with the skin on. If you know what you're buying organic and why, your next grocery trip will be a little less mysterious (but just as delicious).

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