Organic vs. Natural Food

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A lot of people are trying to eat more organic and natural foods as part of their attempts at a healthier lifestyle, but what does it mean for food be called organic or natural? Who decides whether a particular kind of food qualifies?

If you don’t know, then you’re in the dark about the food you’re eating every day the term “organic” is pretty well-defined thanks to a 2002 set of standards issued by the USDA of course. USDA was ordered to draft the standards in a 1991 law these standards require every organic foods farmer or handler to put together a plan that lists all of the methods they’ll use to grow or handle the food as well as a description of all of their management, monitoring, and record-keeping practices they’ll use to be sure that they’re actually following the plan. The farmer can’t use any synthetic fertilizer or sewage only compost, raw manure, and certain minerals. In fact, neither a farmer nor a food processor can use any non-approved synthetic or artificial substances at any point.

When deciding what a synthetic substance is, the USDA considers many things, like the possibility that it will interact badly with other substances used in organic farming, how toxic the substance is, how long it takes to break down, and how hard it is to contain or clean up, what its effects are on human health and the environment that the substance doesn’t make the food less nutritious and that the substance doesn’t replace flavors, colors, or textures lost during processing, and how easily the substance can be replaced by another substance.

The USDA could still ban the use of natural substances if they will harm human health or the environment or it can allow the use of a synthetic substance in organic farming if there is no reasonable substitute, human health will not be threatened, and it is not toxic exemptions are passed for a variety of reasons. some examples of allowed synthetic substances to be used in organic farming include chlorine materials as long as they don’t contaminate the local water supply hydrogen peroxide, copper sulfate, sulfur dioxide, coppers, as long as they don’t contaminate the soil, and alcohols. Some examples of allowed synthetic substances to be used as ingredients in organic food include cyclohexylamine, magnesium chloride,
potassium acid tartrate, tetrasodium pyrophosphate, and bentonite the farmer can only plant organic seeds and seedlings.

The farmer’s only allowed to manage pests, diseases, and weeds by rotating crops, cleaning, mowing, or weeding the crop, breeding resistant plants, and animals, introducing another pest or disease that will kill the first one, mulching, traps, or fir. Yes, that’s right, fire. not only are pesticides prohibited but to be certified as organic the farmer or handler can’t have used them on that land for the past 3 years poultry such as chickens must have been managed organically since the 2nd day of their life.

Dairy animals must be organically managed 3 years before you can collect any organic milk from them, breeding animals can be brought onto an organic farm at any time animals need more than sex though, they need food too all animal feed must be made entirely of other agricultural products it may not include hormones, drugs, plastic pellets, manure, urine, animal slaughter byproducts, which means dead animal parts, or antibiotics it makes you wonder a little bit why they need to specifically prohibit someone from feeding the animals plastic or manure though farmers are required to give grazing animals pasture and grass to eat to keep animals healthy organic farmers are required to give them clean conditions which are spacious enough that they can move around and have shade and clean water organic farmers also have to protect the animals from bad weather farmers are not allowed to give the animals antibiotics at all or any other drug within 90 days of milk production but organic farmers are also not allowed to avoid treating animals so they can count them as organic and sell them all these different rules nail down pretty firmly what counts as organic food. When it comes to calling something natural on the other hand there’s a lot less to go on government agencies have tried repeatedly to come up with a specific set of rules about what counts as natural and they have failed every time the FDA does have a working definition of natural flavors which basically means that nothing artificial or synthetic has been added to the flavoring or the food as flavoring which wouldn’t normally be there.

It seems like that means natural substances can still be added the difference between natural and artificial depends on where the flavor substance comes from and how it is processed, but there is no hard and fast rule to check Oompa Loompas are probably ok though the USDA has its own definition for what animal products can be called natural they can’t contain artificial flavors which are defined as any flavor which doesn’t come in some way from plant or animal material they must also only be minimally processed which means only traditional processing methods like roasting, freezing, drying, or smoking or any other process which doesn’t basically alter the product aside from separating it into component parts, like grinding meat, separating eggs into yolks and whites, or squeezing the juice from a fruit. these rules do not cover every situation which means there are some foods which are labeled as natural that are covered and some situations where the rules contradict or offer vague guidance, but people make do and there you have it.

July 17, 2019 Sophy Gerard