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Organic and Other Environmentally Friendly Foods

You've probably noticed the increased quantity and variety of organic foods available in regular grocery stores. Once the specialty of health food stores, organic foods are spreading to shelves throughout major food stores.

So you may be wondering if organic foods are healthier and safer — and worth the extra money they might cost. How do they taste? And what do labels touting foods as "sustainable," "natural," "free-range," "grass-fed," or "fair trade" mean?

Defining "Organic"

If a food is labeled "organic," that means it meets the organic standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). An organic food is grown without:

  • pesticides
  • fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge
  • herbicides
  • antibiotics
  • bioengineering
  • hormones
  • ionizing radiation

Organic animal products — meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy foods — come from animals that are fed 100% organic feed products, receive no antibiotics or growth hormones, and have access to the outdoors.

If a product is labeled "organic," it means that a government-approved certifier has inspected the farm where it was produced to ensure that the growers followed all the rules necessary to meet the USDA's organic standards. Farmers who produce organic foods use renewable resources that conserve the soil and water for future generations. And any company that handled or processed that food on its way to the grocery store must be certified organic, too.

Foods labeled "organic" can be either:

  • 100% organic: They're completely organic or made of all organic ingredients.
  • Organic: They're at least 95% organic.

"Made with organic ingredients" on a label means the food contains at least 70% organic ingredients, but can't have the "organic" seal on its packaging.

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