Thursday, October 2, 2008

What Does the USDA Organic Label Really Mean?

October 1, 2008

USDA has standards for organic foods

You've decided to make our Baked Apple recipe. Should you buy conventionally grown apples or organic? Both supply vitamins, minerals and fiber, and both have no fat, sodium or cholesterol. The conventionally grown apples cost less, but the organic apples have a label that says "USDA Organic."

But does the term "organic" mean anything, and are organic foods safer or more nutritious?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's organic certification program requires that food labeled "organic" be grown, harvested and processed according to standards that include restrictions on pesticides, hormones and antibiotics.

- Food labeled "100% organic" must have no synthetic ingredients and can use the USDA organic seal.
- Food labeled "organic" must have a minimum of 95% organic ingredients and can use the USDA organic seal.
- Meat, eggs, poultry and dairy labeled "organic" must come from animals that have never received antibiotics or growth hormones.

There is no definitive evidence that organic food is more nutritious than conventionally grown food.

Expect to pay 10% to 100% more for organic foods. More expensive farming practices and lower crop yields drive prices up.

The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization protecting public health and the environment, says peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, imported grapes, spinach, lettuce and potatoes are most susceptible to pesticide residue.

Papayas, broccoli, cabbage, bananas, kiwifruit, frozen peas, asparagus, mangoes, pineapple, frozen sweet corn, avocadoes and onions have the least pesticide residue.

One thing nutrition experts do agree on -- eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, whether they are organic or not. The health benefits far outweigh any potential risks from pesticide exposure.

HEART SMART is a registered trademark of the Henry Ford Hospital Heart and Vascular Institute. Darlene Zimmerman, MS, RD, is program contact; for questions about today's recipe, call her at 313-972-1920, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays.