Monday, 4 November 2013

BUYING ORGANIC - What Do The Labels Really Mean?

The last time I was buying bananas at 57 cents a pound I noticed organic bananas at 97 cents a pound. I had seen this before but never really paid much attention to it but this time it made me stop and think. Was the label "organic" really worth paying an extra 40 cents a pound? I decided to find out.

What I discovered was that just having organic or similar wording on a label instantly increased the price. Unfortunately, this gave many producers the opportunity to cash in by creating a variety of labels designed to make the consumer think they were paying more for better quality, organic products, when in fact they weren't.

Shown are some of the labels used to market food products. In order to make informed decisions when buying organic, its necessary to know what the labels actually mean.

100% Organic or Certified Organic - The product meets the standards for organic certification set by the country of origin. Organic agricultural methods are internationally regulated and legally enforced by many nations. (Wikipedea)
Logo - Canada Organic RegimeThe label at right shows Canada's Certified Organic Seal.

Organic - The label 'organic', without showing 100% or certification, can be applied to products that are 70-95% organic. Since the bananas only said organic - not certified organic - they would fall into this category. 
Natural or All Natural - This means that nothing was changed in or added to the product itself - it does not say anything about the growing conditions or whether synthetic pesticides and/or herbicides were used.
No Hormones/Steroids Added - This label may sometimes be found on poultry products where it is absolutely meaningless since the addition of hormones and/or steroids to poultry and pork has been prohibited in Canada for the past 30 years.
Pure or 100% Pure - Can only be applied to one ingredient products. For instance, maple syrup can be 100% pure while peanut butter made with peanuts and oil (2 ingredients) can't be.
Farm Fresh or Farm Grown - Doesn't explain growing conditions and, in the case of animals, what additives were given.
Premium Quality Organic Food - Since it doesn't claim certification, but does claim organic, means the product must contain 70-95% organic ingredients.
Grass Fed. Animals have access to outside where they graze or are fed hay - leads to healthier, leaner animals resulting in better quality meat.
Non-GMO. Genetically modified organisms (GMO) have been thought to increase serious allergies in children and may be the cause of other health problems. Non-GMO means the products are free of these organisms.
Thanks to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for much of the above information.

More Organic Info:
Some really useful consumer information came from the Environmental Working Group - a non-profit organization. They analyze the results of government pesticide testing in the USA and based on that provide an annual list of fruits and vegetables containing the highest and lowest pesticide levels.

List One - (The Dirty Dozen) - Highest Levels - Greatest Risk:
Apples (Superfood), Bell Peppers (Superfood), Carrots, Celery, Cherries, Grapes (imported), Kale (Superfood), Lettuce, Nectarines, Peaches, Pears, Strawberries.

List Two - Lowest Levels - Lowest Risk:
Asparagus, Avocado (Superfood), Broccoli (Superfood), Cabbage, Sweet Corn, Eggplant, Kiwi (Superfood), Mango, Onion (Superfood), Papaya, Pineapple, Peas, Sweet Potatoes, Tomatoes (Superfood), Watermelon.

Washing reduces, but does not eliminate, the pesticide residue. I wash all purchased produce, no matter the source, in water containing 1/2 cup baking soda. Peeling helps but this also removes valuable nutrients. Three of the twelve items on the first list are considered superfoods, meaning they are extra good for us, so it might make sense to spend the money to buy those products certified organic.

To me, meat is of great concern. The meat and milk of animals grown by conventional methods may contain, among other things:
Dairy cows and beef cows - antibiotics and growth hormones;
Pigs - antibiotics, no growth hormones;
Poultry - antibiotics,  no steroids or growth hormones.

I have always considered myself to be as well informed about healthy food products as most people but seeing this in black and white was still an eye-opener, especially the section on meat. As for the bananas, they're labeled organic, not certified, which means they are up to 30% non-organic. That, and the thick peel that is discarded, is enough for me to consider them in the low-risk category and organic designated dollars could be better spent elsewhere.
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Food Products: 
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I want this blog to be interesting, informative and current. Your comments let me know if I'm on track, so comments are greatly appreciated.
Thanks - Lenie