If you’re here, then eating healthy is most likely a priority for you. But when you’re researching healthy practices, getting sucked into the rabbit-hole of online information about “organic” and “beyond organic” foods can happen fast. It’s not always clear how their labels translate to healthier food for you. Are certified organic products really better for you and why? And, what in the world could “beyond organic” mean?
There are some great resources out there that go into lengthy detail on the subject, but sometimes that can get overwhelming. Here’s a quick overview we think will help you decipher organic from beyond organic foods, to help you make the most informed decisions when you shop.
In a nutshell, the USDA Certified Organic regulation standard was implemented in the 1990s, after which many big corporations have jumped on the organic bandwagon. As a result, farmers and consumers have been fighting an ongoing battle to keep huge companies from introducing controversial practices and chemicals into their farming and production. That said, what does the classification actually mean? Well, a farm or product that bears the USDA Certified Organic sticker has used strictly “no antibiotics, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or irradiation in production. The list of allowed pesticides is highly restricted to include only the least toxic controls, derived primarily from natural (non-synthetic) ingredients. In addition, all producers and handlers of organic products are required to be certified by a USDA accredited certifying agent in order to claim to be USDA Certified Organic.” (1.)
“To shop and eat sustainably is more than just how the food is produced. It also means avoiding heavily packaged and processed foods, reducing food waste, and considering the connection between our food and global warming.” – Michael Pollan
Also, the degree to which a product is organic determines whether the seal can be displayed on the package. “100% Organic” means 100% organically produced ingredients and processing aids. “Organic” must consist of a minimum of 95% organically produced ingredients. Anything less than 70% organic ingredients does not quality for the “organic” seal. (2.) Holding producers large and small to this USDA Certified Organic standard allows us as consumers to breathe easier knowing our food will be clean and clear of toxic or unhealthy substances. That’s great, right? It definitely is an enormous step in the right direction. However, one aspect of this certification consumers might forget about (or not know about) is the fee to be certified as USDA Organic. Enter “Beyond Organic.”
Food Guru Michael Pollan created the term “Beyond Organic,” which encompasses the whole process of growing, producing, packaging and delivering our food, following no set of established regulations. This basically means that a farmer is using sustainable practices without paying to have the label on his or her goods that says so. “In the U.S., “organic” is a word with a specific definition, set in place by the USDA certified organic program and requiring a codified set of practices […] To shop and eat sustainably is more than just how the food is produced. It also means avoiding heavily packaged and processed foods, reducing food waste, and considering the connection between our food and global warming.” (3.) In essence, Beyond Organic means cultivating food in a way that’s sustainable for the land, healthy for the animals and workers, less environmentally impactful for the planet, and healthful for the consumer. There are currently no established labels for this type of biodynamic practice, so the best way to eat Beyond Organic is to source your food locally. This contributes to a sustainable agricultural economy and work force and creates shorter transport distances which reduces gas emissions. You’ll also reap the benefits of fresher produce that’s always grown in season.
So there you have it: Organic and Beyond Organic are both great options for promoting health; you just may have to look in different places to find them (Nationwide store versus farm down the street). If you choose to shop close to home, chances are good that you’re supporting organic and sustainable farms. Building this connection will allow you to make an informed and educated decision on the food you purchase and ultimately put on your family’s table.
For more information on organic and beyond organic practices:
org/programs/organic- agriculture/keeping-organic- strong/national-organic- standards