Organic food has both a popular meaning, and, in some countries, a legal definition. In everyday conversation, it usually refers to all "naturally produced" foods, or the product of organic farming. As a legal term, it means certified organic. The distinction is important, as the two definitions can represent quite different products.

Table of contents
1 Types of Organic Food
2 Organic food & preservatives
3 Is organic food "better"?
4 External links

Types of Organic Food

Organic food can be grouped into three categories, reflecting price, availability, and consumer perception:

Fresh produce - vegetables and fruits - is the most available type of organic food, and closely associated with organic farming. Organic produce is often purchased directly from farmers, at markets and from on-farm stands, and through specialty food stores. Prices range from slightly to significantly higher.

Unprocessed animal products - meat, eggs, dairy - are less common. Prices are significantly higher than for conventional food, and availability is lower. They are still premium priced items.

Processed food accounts for most of the items in a supermarket. Little of it is organic, and organic prices are often high. However, as demand grows, prices will likely fall rapidly, and processed food will become the dominant organic category, as it is for conventional food.

The general definition of fresh organic food is similar to that of organic farming:

  • produced without synthetic chemicals (eg: fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, hormones);
  • free of genetically modified organisms;
  • (often, but not necessarily) locally grown.

A small farm can grow vegetables and raise livestock using organic farming practices, with or without certification. In either case, the nature of "organic" seems equally clear to consumers. Certification acts as a confirmation or assurance.

For processed organic food, the general definition is:

  • contains only (or a minimum percentage of) organic ingredients;
  • contains no artificial food additives;
  • processed without artificial methods, materials and conditions (eg: no chemical ripening, no food irradiation).

Processed foods are more difficult to understand non-technically, because commercial preparation methods, food additives, packaging and the like are not everyday topics. Certification appears to be the only practical way for consumers to trust that a processed product, like pasta, or frozen prepared foods, or margarine, is "organic", without necessarily having a clear idea of what that means.

Organic food & preservatives

Unfortunately, there are no natural models for preserving food the way it's found in supermarkets today.

Preserving food has always been a central agricultural issue. Today, it is the cornerstone of the food industry. In wealthier locales, an impressive array of technologies is used to make food "last" longer, from home refrigerators and freezers at the consumer end, to industrial and chemical practices applied along the food production chain, from seed to field to fridge or table.

In general, organic standards cover in detail this entire process, specifying what is an "organic" ingredient or practice. However, since there is little natural reference for preparing, for example, a precooked, frozen entree, a "certified organic" label on such an item may be hard to understand. The main ingredients are one thing, the processes and additives used to assemble and store them are quite another.

This quickly leads to a possible conclusion that may seem startling and impossible in developed nations: most of what's found in supermarkets today can never be called "organic". The idea is not new, and whole foods have long been part of the health food diet. However, should this idea become widespread, it poses a serious threat to today's agribusiness. Therefore, there is de facto agribusiness interest in controlling the definition of "organic food".

Is organic food "better"?

In the end, the consumer question is: "Is organic food significantly 'better' than regular supermarket food?" If not, less attention need be paid to understanding organic vs. conventional food. If so, consumers have to educate themselves, or risk being mislead. This area is a hotbed of controversy, and there are no conclusive answers.

The basic claims for the superiority of organic food are:

None of these claims are widely accepted as scientific fact. There are research reports, expert opinions, and anecdotal evidence both supporting and refuting them. Learning more about these debates leads to clearer understanding organic food, and its potential value.

External links

Organic Consumers