Everything You Need To Know About Organic Food

The notion of modern organic farming began in the 1960s and 1970s, spurred by an increase in public awareness of the hazards of farm production and the use of synthetic chemicals, according to Brian Baker of the Organic Materials Review Institute. Lawmakers began to regulate the use of synthetic chemicals, and consumers started to demand food produced using traditional farming methods. Some states and organizations began to create their own standards for organic food production in the 1970s. The farm crisis of the 1980s led some farmers to transition to organic practices, and in the late 1980s there was an increasing demand for organic products. In 1990, Congress passed the Organic Food Productions Act. The USDA appointed the National Organic Standards Board in 1992.

Organic foods, those produced with little or no exposure to synthetic substances, have become a popular alternative to conventional produce, grain, meat and dairy products.

Organic food producers employ practices that promote environmental conservation and reduce pollution. Organic farmers avoid the use of most pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, genetic engineering, ionizing radiation and sewage sludge, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Organic farmers who raise livestock feed the animal’s organic food, do not give them antibiotics or growth hormones and allow them to have access to the outdoors. Organic farmers rely on natural fertilizers, beneficial insects and birds, crop rotation, rotational grazing and other natural methods of reducing pests and promoting the health of plants and animals.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture sets standards that certified organic products must meet. You can identify organic foods by the USDA Organic Seal that appears on, or on a sign near, certified products. Only products that are at least 95 percent organic may contain the USDA Organic Seal. If a product contains the phrase “Made with Organic Ingredients,” it is made with at least 70 percent organic ingredients, according to the USDA. Products containing less than 70 percent organic ingredients only list the organic ingredients in the ingredient list.

To receive a USDA organic certification, meat producers must first submit to the USDA their plan for organic production. This plan details their production system and record-keeping process. They must also pass an on-site inspection. Re-inspection occurs at least annually. Producers that sell less than $5,000 per year in products may be exempt from certification but may not use the USDA organic labeling on their products, according to the USDA National Organic Program.

Organic food production methods are more expensive for farmers, and the cost is passed on to the consumer, according to the Mayo Clinic. For this reason, organic foods typically cost more than non-organic products. Organic farmers do not use waxes, preservatives or unnatural means of producing large, attractive produce. This means that some organic produce may look less attractive than conventional produce, and it might also spoil faster.

Health-conscious food is a big business, and the term “organic” is often used in a misleading way. Walk through any supermarket and you’ll see that a large percentage of meat packaging makes claims such as “natural,” “free range” and “hormone free.” It can be difficult for consumers to determine exactly what these terms mean and how they relate to meat quality.


The primary difference between organic and nonorganic meat is the conditions under which the animal is raised. To qualify their livestock or poultry as organic, farmers must refrain from using animal byproducts as feed. Conventionally raised animals are often fed the rendered remains of horses, pigs, chicken and cattle. Animals that die of disease are sometimes ground into feed, spreading diseases to animals that eat this cheap protein source. Of particular concern is bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease. Organic farmers are also not allowed to use growth hormones or to feed urea, manure or plastic pellets to their animals. Other farmers are not prohibited from doing so.

Organic Beef 

Under the premise of organic beef production, all livestock require provisions that adequately meet their health and behavioral needs. Organic living conditions include shelter, plenty of room to exercise and roam fresh water, fresh air and bright-green pastures. The Organic Trade Association also says that all organic livestock require feed that is 100% organic.

An animal raised for organic beef purposes must be born to a mother fed an exclusive organic diet at the very latest during her third trimester, if not before, according to Idaho Land and Livestock. The organic beef market bans the use of antibiotics and growth hormones. Livestock can neither consume a plastic pellet diet, nor feed on formulas that contain manure or urea.

Organic feed contains no animal byproducts. NY Medical Nutrition explains that by nature, cattle are herbivores. So, livestock raised for organic purposes must receive a diet that adheres to their natural tendencies. An organic diet for livestock consists mainly of grass. In fact, organically-raised cattle eat grass from the day they are born up until the time of slaughter. Even the grass is organic—completely free of pesticides.

Organic Chicken

Chicks destined for organic labeling must be raised according to National Organic Program standards from the time they are two-days-old, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. They eat 100 percent organic feed, and may receive vitamin and mineral supplements. Organically-raised chickens don’t receive antibiotics. They are kept healthy though vaccines and other preventive measures.

Organic chickens must have access to the outdoors, sunlight, fresh air, shade and shelter. They are provided with clean drinking water and enough food for flocks to eat simultaneously without competition, according to USDA regulations. Though healthy chickens aren’t medicated, medication can’t be withheld if they get sick—even if it means losing their organic status.

More Protein

The Department of Animal Science at Iowa State University released a study that compared the protein content, among other things, of organic, free-range and conventional broiler chickens. An analysis of the various types of raw chicken breast showed that the organic sample contained only slightly more protein than the free-range chicken. However, the organic chicken sample contained over 1 percent more protein than the chicken that was raised by conventional methods. The cooked chicken breast analysis yielded that the organic sample contained almost a quarter of a percent more protein than the free-range chicken breast, and more than 1.5 percent more protein than the conventional chicken breast. One serving of organic, free-range chicken provides you with more protein than a serving of conventional chicken.

More Good Fat, Less Bad Fat

In the same study, released by Iowa State University, the levels of various fat types were measured and compared between organic, free-range and conventional broiler chickens. The study analyzed samples of raw chicken breast and discovered that the fat content varied greatly among the different samples. The levels of saturated fat, also known as bad fat, were lowest in the organic chicken and similar between the free-range and conventional chicken samples. The levels of polyunsaturated fat, the good fat, were considerably higher in the organic chicken sample than the other two chickens. In addition, both omega-3 and omega-6 levels were higher in the organic sample than the free-range, and higher in the free-range sample than the conventional sample. Organic, free-range chicken provides healthier levels of saturated fat and the most beneficial levels of polyunsaturated fat, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

No Risk of Unnecessary Antibiotic Consumption

According to the FDA, there is new evidence that the antibiotics in poultry are causing antibiotic-resistant infections in an increased number of consumers. For example, fluoroquinolone is an antibiotic that is commonly given to chickens and turkeys if a single bird in the flock is diagnosed with E. coli. However, the result is a resistance to a different kind of bacteria called Campylobacter. If the body comes in contact with Campylobacter, there is no antibiotic that is successful in fighting it. Purchasing organic chicken ensures that you and your family are not ingesting unnecessary antibiotics that may lead to antibiotic-resistant infections.

Organic Pork 

USDA accredited agents certify and annually inspect all farms that raise livestock with the intent of selling their products as organic. According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, in 2008 the leading state with 32 certified organic hog farms was Wisconsin. These farms follow an organic production system that documents and monitors all practices of the farm, including the origin and use of all substances and management practices that prevent the mixing of organic and non-organic materials and products.

Producers bring pigs in their last third of gestation to their certified organic farms and raise the offspring for the production of organic pork. These animals feed on organically produced feed that is free of pesticides and herbicides. The diets of organically raised pigs are also free of antibiotics, growth hormones, genetically modified grains, animal by-products, chemically extracted feed, drugs or synthetic amino acids. Most synthetic products are prohibited, except for some vaccinations, medications, vitamins and mineral supplements. In order to be classified as organic, fruits and vegetables must be grown without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Organic production seeks to minimize pollution and balance the environment. The United States Department of Agriculture reported in 2010 that the demand for organic products has increased every year since 1998.


In order to be classified as organic, fruits and vegetables must be grown without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Organic production seeks to minimize pollution and balance the environment. The United States Department of Agriculture reported in 2010 that the demand for organic products has increased every year since 1998.

Organic vegetables are grown, handled and processed differently from traditionally grown fruits and vegetables. Farmers who grow organic fruits and vegetables adhere to strict government standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Fruits and Vegetables can only be labeled as organic if they achieve these standards.

Organic fruits and vegetables grow in conditions favorable to the environment. Unlike conventional farming, organic farming uses no chemical pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or fertilizers. Organic farming limits pollution, conserves water, reduces soil erosion and increases soil fertility. Natural fertilizers such as manure and compost encourage the growth of organic vegetables, while techniques including mulching, tilling, hand weeding and crop rotation control weeds. Beneficial insects, birds, mating disruption and traps keep pests at bay, according to the Mayo Clinic website.

Pesticides sprayed on conventionally grown fruits and vegetables leave residues behind, which we ingest. Many years of pesticide exposure leads to the accumulation of pesticides in our bodies, which causes headaches and puts strain on our immune system, according to Helpguide.org. Furthermore, pesticides pass from mother to child during pregnancy and via breast milk. Unborn babies and children have underdeveloped immune systems and increased sensitivity to the effects of pesticides. Pesticide exposure may contribute to delayed development, behavioral problems and impaired motor skills, states Helpguide.org. Organic fruits and vegetables limit our exposure to chemical pesticides because they are grown using alternative methods of pest control.

Conventional agriculture employs pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and chemical fertilizers to significantly increase its yields. Conventional growers around the world use so many chemicals that herbicides and pesticides are commonly found in rainwater. The Environmental Protection Agency notes that 90 percent of fungicides, 30 percent of insecticides and 60 percent of herbicides are carcinogenic. When consumed, such chemicals accumulate in body fat. Nerve damage, cancer and disrupted fetal brain development have all been linked to pesticides, insecticides and herbicides. Certain chemicals can remain in your body for decades. Washing conventionally grown fruits and vegetables can reduce, but not eliminate, chemical residue

“Dirty Dozen”

The scientists, policymakers and researchers who make up the Environmental Working Group, put together a list of produce, called the “dirty dozen,” that you should always buy in organic form, if available. After a high-powered wash, these fruits and vegetables still tested positive for between 47 and 67 different chemicals. If you eat five conventionally grown fruits and vegetables from this list each day, you will consume, on average, 10 different pesticides per day. The list includes celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, domestic blueberries, nectarines, sweet bell peppers, spinach, kale, collard greens, cherries, potatoes, imported grapes and lettuce. “The Organic Food Shopper’s Guide” argues that you should also opt for organic when buying carrots, pears and red raspberries.

“Clean Fifteen”

The EWG also came up with a list of conventionally grown produce, called the “clean fifteen,” that has minimal amounts of pesticide, herbicide and insecticide residue, and is therefore considered relatively safe to eat in non-organic form. In some cases, this is because the fruit or vegetable in question has a thick skin or husk protecting the edible portion from chemical exposure. In other cases, growers might not spray a particular type of crop as heavily. The list includes onions, avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, mango, sweet peas, asparagus, kiwi, cabbage, eggplant, cantaloupe, watermelon, grapefruit, sweet potatoes and sweet onions. Eating five items from this list each day results in an average daily intake of only two distinct pesticides.


Pesticides are often used on produce to control insects as well as weeds and fungi. The Environmental Protection Agency sets limits on tolerable levels of pesticide residue on produce. Between 2004 and 2006, the Food and Drug Administration tested 2,243 domestic samples and 4,870 imported samples for pesticide residue, a tiny percentage of the total sold. They reported illegal pesticides in 2 percent of domestic samples and 6 percent of imported samples.

In order to be classified as organic, fruits and vegetables must be grown without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Organic production seeks to minimize pollution and balance the environment. The United States Department of Agriculture reported in 2010 that the demand for organic products has increased every year since 1998.

 Leafy Vegetables

Farmers tend to use pesticides to save their leafy vegetable crops from various bugs and insects. Spinach may contain as many as 48 different pesticides, making it one of the most contaminated green leafy vegetables. U.S. government tests often find kale to have high amounts of pesticide residue. Lettuce is another leafy vegetable that you should buy organic. Alternative leafy vegetables that do not need to be bought organic include cabbage and broccoli.

Thin-Skinned Vegetables

Celery has no protective skin, which makes it almost impossible to wash off chemicals used on conventional crops. According to TheDailyGreen.com, celery ranked number one in its 2010 “dirty dozen” list of foods that you should buy organic. Bell peppers also have thin skin and are often sprayed heavily with insecticides. Tests found 49 different pesticides on sweet bell peppers. You should also buy tomatoes organic because of their thin skin.

Root Vegetables

According to HealthCastle.com, potatoes and carrots are at high risk for pesticides and may be affected by fungicides in their surrounding soil. Alternative root vegetables that do not need to be bought organic include radishes and onions because they have tough skins.



 Biting into a fuzzy, sweetly flavored peach is one of the pleasures of summer, but stick to only organic peaches. Conventional peaches were No. 1 on the Dirty Dozen list in 2009, and No. 2 in 2010. They contain 62 pesticides when produced conventionally.
 Strawberries have a thin, porous skin and are frequently imported from developing countries where lax regulations allow a high pesticide spray level. The laboratory tests for the Dirty Dozen found that strawberries contained 59 pesticide chemical types.
 The peel of conventional apples contains the highest level of pesticides, but it also contains the nutrients. Instead of peeling apples, opt for purchasing the organic variety to avoid the 42 pesticide chemicals found in non-organic apples.
 Blueberries are an additional berry type that contain a high level of pesticides. The thin skin allows the chemicals to enter the fruit’s flesh. Buying blueberries organic is the safest option. Conventional blueberries contain 52 pesticide chemicals.
 Nectarines are a close relative of the peach, which may be an easy way to remember that both fruits should be purchased organic. Nectarines contain about 33 chemical pesticides, according to the Dirty Dozen list

Domestic cherries contain a particularly high level of pesticide residue compared with imported cherries. Purchase organic cherries to avoid the chemicals and benefit from their qualities, such as vitamin C and fiber.


 The Environmental Working Group discovered that imported grapes have a particularly high concentration of pesticide residue and should be avoided. They contain about 34 chemicals.
 Raspberries are a healthy addition to the diet because they are high in fiber and vitamins, but the thin skins make them vulnerable to chemical absorption. They should be purchased organically.
Conventional pears contain 28 chemicals. Buying organic pears is particularly important for pregnant and breastfeeding women, because pesticides interfere with normal growth and development.
 Tomatoes are a popular thin-skinned fruit that absorb any chemical sprays applied to them during production. To avoid consuming chemicals, always buy organic tomatoes.


Nuts and seeds are ideal snacks. They provide vitamins, minerals and quick energy without unhealthy fat or empty calories. Although the nutmeat or seed is protected by a shell or fruit, unless they are raised organically they are treated with synthetic chemicals just as other non-organic crops. Look for the USDA organic seal on nut and seed packages.

Many consumers want raw organic nuts and seeds. The USDA pasteurization laws require nut growers and processors to steam-heat raw almonds to pasteurize them. If you want raw organic almonds, you can still buy unpasteurized almonds in person, directly from the grower.


Endosulfan, a pesticide that is banned in most countries but still legal in the U.S. and India, is used on non-organic cashew trees. It is highly toxic to humans and animals, and washes into waterways where it harms aquatic life. Endosulfan is a hazard to farm workers as well as people who live near farms where it is used. According to grinningplanet.com, it affects the central nervous system, and causes damage to kidneys, liver and testes. Organic cashews are grown without the use of any poisonous chemicals, including endosulfan.


Non-organic pistachios may be treated with phosmet, a Class II pesticide. Studies at Cornell University indicate chronic toxicity in rats from long term, small doses of phosmet. A two-year mouse study showed increased liver tumors and carcinoma, and the pesticide is considered a category C carcinogen. Safe, organic pistachios are not exposed to phosmet or any other synthetic chemicals.


Peanut plants are legumes, with seeds that develop underground. Sixwise.com explains that because they have direct soil contact, pesticides and chemicals can be very concentrated in peanuts. Peanuts grown in the southeastern U.S. are exposed to humid conditions that create a greater risk of insect, mold and fungal infection. The poisonous aflatoxin, a carcinogenic mold that affects peanuts, transmits easily in humid environments. The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service reports that most U.S. organic peanuts are grown in the dry Southwest. While all peanuts must be checked for aflatoxin, it is rarely found in Southwestern peanuts. Look for Valencia cultivars of peanuts. These cultivars were bred for New Mexico’s growing conditions, and they produce premium organic peanuts.


Conventionally grown fruits, vegetables and herbs are treated with pesticides and herbicides to kill and repel pests such as insects, rodents and fungi that affect farmer’s crops and profitability. Pesticides and herbicides are highly toxic and can harm the health of humans and pets. Food grown using them contains a trace of their chemicals that can get into your bloodstream, such as the case with Pentachlorophenol or PCP, according to the University of California Davis Environmental Toxicology Department.

Pesticides and herbicides are pervasive chemicals in the environment. Pesticide, according to HistoryofWaterFilters.com, is an umbrella term that encompasses herbicides and insecticides. Herbicides are believed to present a bigger threat because they are highly concentrated in the water supply, due to runoff from agricultural use. The prevalent exposure of the world’s populations to these substances has caused concern over their potential health consequences. These consequences are especially alarming as their effects are believed to induce devastating and life-long diseases, and deformities in children and unborn fetuses.


PCP is a herbicide used to treat cotton, as a pesticide to prevent fungi from rotting and insects from eating wood. It is toxic for human consumption and can enter the body through skin contact, causing irritation and in severe cases death.


Chlorophenoxy is a herbicide that, according to the Partnership for Environmental Education and Rural Health, is toxic and can cause vomiting, confusion, renal failure and irregular heartbeat. Chlorophenoxy is used with some fruits, including pineapple.


Dalapon is a selective herbicide that kills grasses and weeds and leaves farmer’s crops intact. It is commonly used on potatoes, fruits, sugar cane and flax. Dalapon in toxic to humans and can cause burns if it comes in direct contact with the skin. Dalapon also is called magnesium dalapon or sodium dalapon.


In a 1999 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a report on pesticides and found that acephate was detectable and found in food sold for human consumption, according to the website True Health. Acephate is used to control aphids and insects that invade vegetables such as potatoes and beets, as well as fruit. According to the University of California Davis Environmental Toxicology Department, exposure to acephate can cause heart block, central nervous system impairment, heartburn, chest tightness, pulmonary edema and death because of respiratory failure. Acephate also is used to treat horticulture plants such as chrysanthemums and roses. It can harm the health of your pets. As with all pesticides, dogs can get cancer, skin irritation and kidney damage if they eat or run around in areas that have been treated by pesticides, according to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.


Endosulfan kills insects that attack plants such as coffee and tea, as well as grains, vegetables and fruits. It is highly toxic for humans when ingested or absorbed through the skin, and can cause liver problems, reduced growth rates and seizures. It comes as an emulsifiable concentrate, ultra-low volume (ULV) liquid, wettable powder and smoke tablets. Edolsufan is a Restricted Use Pesticide (RUP)

Endocrine Disruptors

The endocrine system is a messaging system that uses hormones and the bloodstream to convey responses throughout the body. A 1999 Pesticides News article classifies pesticides as endocrine disruptors. The action of these chemicals has been described as able to mimic the effects of human estrogen or testosterone; additionally, they are disruptive to the synthesis and breakdown of both estrogen and testosterone. The major endocrine glands include the pituitary gland, thyroid, adrenals, ovaries and testes.It has been found that animals and humans exposed to these chemicals in the womb are at a high risk of developing deformed reproductive anatomies, defects or alterations in sexual behavior, sperm counts, metabolism and brain development.

Autism and ADHD

Many pesticides, and thus herbicides, are petroleum-based. Petroleum, as a fat-soluble substance, has long-term effects in the body because it remains in fat-laden tissues, like the brain and adipose cells, for a long period of time. Children are noted by the Pesticide Action Network to be at a higher risk for brain development and functional issues associated with pesticides, due to a higher consumption by children of such chemicals. The article notes that, when comparing food and air consumption on a pound to pound basis in children versus adults, children are more greatly exposed to environmental pesticides and herbicides. As such, the article lists that neurological developmental issues, such as autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, are more prevalent when exposure to pesticides during critical periods of brain development has occurred. Moreover, a 2010 Pediatrics journal article theorized that organophosphates, a class of pesticide, may contribute to the prevalence of ADHD; exposure to this pesticide is most common in American children in the 8- to 15-year-old age group. However, additional research is needed to confirm a causal relationship.


Many studies of pesticides and herbicides have been performed on the workers and handlers of these chemicals, such as farmers and their families. However, a 2010 Organic Consumers Association article by Dan Sharpley notes that a specialized type of cancer known as acute lymphoblastic leukemia is assumed to be directly linked to pesticide exposure in a normal, non-agriculture setting. They add that pesticides are not directly causative and that genetic susceptibility also plays a role.

Learning Problems

According to a May 17, 2010, article published on CNN.com, children who are frequently exposed to a small amount of organophosphates, a pesticide found on commercially grown fruit and vegetables, are more likely to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder than children who have been exposed less often. Exposure to these pesticides has also been linked to behavior and learning problems in children.

Nervous System

Organophosphates have also been shown to affect the nervous system. According to the Department of Natural Resources and Environment, signs of an affected nervous system include excess salivation, stomach pain, vomiting, constipation and diarrhea. The most pesticides are found on celery, peaches, berries, apples, peppers, greens, grapes and potatoes. Eating these commercially grown foods more frequently might increase exposure.

Weakened Immune System

According to the Global Healing Center, several studies have shown that pesticides alter the immune system in animals and make them more susceptible to disease. Pesticides have been found to reduce the numbers of white blood cells and disease-fighting lymphocytes, making their bodies unable to kill bacteria and viruses. According to the GHC, they also affect the development of the spleen and thymus and spleen, two immune organs.

  Other Effects

The diversity of pesticides and the way that each person metabolizes them may shed light on their diverse actions and detrimental effects in the body. The HistoryofWaterFilters.com website lists alachlor, atrazine, endothall, lindane and methoxychlor as commonly used herbicides and insecticides. Outside of their major effects on the endocrine system and their role in inducing neurological issues and childhood cancers, the site lists other non-specific effects of ingestion as eye, liver, kidney or spleen problems. They additionally describe anemia, cardiovascular, stomach and intestinal problems as related to pesticide exposure.


It’s not difficult to realize that if you apply a product intended to kill, there can be risks if it is misused or if humans come in contact with it. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), pesticides require regulation due to possible human health effects including skin irritation, disorders of the nervous system and possible carcinogenic properties.

The most significant harmful effects come from fertilizer that is designed to kill or prevent weeds. According to the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, 12 of the most popular pesticides in the United States have ingredients known to cause cancer. Organic fertilizers are guaranteed to be safe for the
environment, the body and free of pesticides.