Natural Versus Organic
By James Davis, Produce Staff
Healthy food has always been, and always will be, at the core of a healthy way of life. For many people, this means shifting away from hormone-containing, pesticide-laden conventional foods, toward sustainably-produced foods. This demand has resulted in a myriad of products that boast either an “organic” or “all-natural” label. But are the two labels interchangeable? Not as much as you may think.
There are several key differences between the labels that are important for every consumer to know. Most notably, all items labeled “certified organic” are regulated by a third-party, government accredited agency. Hence, these foods follow strict guidelines that seek to eliminate all hazardous materials, as well as establish the most sustainable ecological practices. The organic label assures consumers that what they are purchasing is free of pesticides, genetically modified organisms (GMO), sewage sludge, and, in the case of meat, free from antibiotics, hormones, and come from humanely treated animals. As for the environment, production of certified organic food must have lower levels of pollution. Simply being all natural is not enough, as the unregulated rules for this label are more lax and can even result in the label itself being considered an empty claim.
How empty? According to the non-profit organization, The Cornucopia Institute, the rules for what can be considered natural are miles away from what it takes to be organic. It appears that the former simply exists on the package as a marketing tool to appeal to the environmentally friendly, health-conscious consumer. But consider what natural does not necessarily mean. Along with not requiring any certification, producers of natural food items may still use, among other things, toxic pesticides and genetically modified organisms. And if this were not enough, they are not required to maintain a set level of animal welfare and are not necessarily responsible for lower levels of environmental pollution. In short, there really is no reliable definition for natural. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) itself has “not objected” to a food being considered natural, so long as it lacks, “added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.” To put this into a more clarifying light, consider a 2008 FDA letter that states that in some circumstances, products containing high fructose corn syrup may still carry the natural label.
It remains understandable that some families and individuals must be careful with their incomes when putting food on the table. All-natural foods are not meant to be devious fiends vying for dollars over their organic counterparts, but it is important to understand the differences so that people can make educated choices that work for them. Knowledge is key, and along with smart choices, we can all achieve the healthy lifestyle we desire.