Organic FAQ (Part II)

Q: How do I know if something is organic?

A: The USDA has identified for three categories of labeling organic products: 100% Organic: Made with 100% organic ingredients
Organic: Made with at least 95% organic ingredients
Made With Organic Ingredients: Made with a minimum of 70% organic ingredients with strict restrictions on the remaining 30% including no GMOs (genetically modified organisms)
Products with less than 70% organic ingredients may list organically produced ingredients on the side panel of the package, but may not make any organic claims on the front of the package.

Q: What are the benefits of organic foods?

A: Within the food industry, defining the benefits of organic food is largely left to word of mouth, media coverage, and the promotional efforts of organic advocates. Major food and beverage corporations, like Kraft Foods, Heinz, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Cargill, Unilever, General Mills, and Campbell Soup, have rapidly moved to acquire significant stake in both fresh and processed organic products. Still, the specific sales points of "organics" go largely unmentioned on product packaging and in mainstream media advertising. Claims of improved food quality are regularly used in conventional food marketing, with "low fat", "low sodium", "whole grain", "high fiber", "vitamin enriched", "no trans-fat" and other commonly advertised benefits. By contrast, "certified organic" is generally left to stand on its own as self-explanatory, assisted only by general terms like "natural". Meanwhile, consumer surveys have consistently identified food quality as the main reason for purchasing organic food. Higher nutritional value, no toxic residues from pesticides, and better taste are often cited, as is the positive impact of organic production on the environment. Whether organic food actually delivers on these desires and beliefs is controversial and the subject of scientifically inconclusive debate. The debate centers on a variety of specific and supposedly demonstrable characteristics which proponents claim make organic food superior to the product of conventional farming and processing.

Q: Why does organic cost more?

A: Certified organic products are generally more expensive than their conventional counterparts for a number of reasons:
  • Organic food supply is limited as compared to demand
  • Production costs for organic foods are typically higher because of greater labor inputs per unit of output and because greater diversity of enterprises means economies of scale cannot be achieved
  • Post-harvest handling of relatively small quantities of organic foods results in higher costs because of the mandatory segregation of organic and conventional produce, especially for processing and transportation
  • Marketing and the distribution chain for organic products is relatively inefficient and costs are higher because of relatively small volumes
  • Organic farmers don’t receive subsidies like conventional farmers do. Therefore, the price of organic food reflects the true cost of growing
  • The price of conventional food does not reflect the cost of environmental cleanups that people pay for through tax dollars in countries like USA

Q: How about the idea that organic foods taste better than their conventional equivalents; what evidence is there for or against this?

A: A report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) concludes that organically grown golden delicious apples were found to be firmer and received higher taste scores than conventionally grown apples. Another study showed that organic tomatoes were sweeter and organic carrots had more "carrot taste".
It would appear that, at least for some foods, the organic form can taste better than the conventional equivalent. However, this may not be true for all foods. Higher levels of antioxidants could cause a more ‘bitter’ taste, particularly in leafy green vegetables. Whether this is offset by other taste factors in organic plant foods is not known.

Q: Isn’t organic food just a fad?

A: U. S. sales of organic food and beverages have grown from $1 billion in 1990 to an estimated $20 billion in 2007. The market for these goods is projected to reach nearly $23.6 billion in 2008, and grow an average of 18% each year from 2007-2010. The adoption of national standards for certification is expected to open up new markets for U. S. organic producers. Internationally, organic sales continue to grow as well.