100% Organic, Certified Organic or Made with Organic Ingredients?

In an earlier article about aspartame and the new synthetic, neotame, organic foods were addressed and the possibility of these synthetics appearing in the ingredient labels.  With a clarification of “organic” labeling explained below it is easier to understand what you should be looking for when buying “organic” foods.  According to the Organic Trade Association, ‘the organic food industry has grown from a $1 billion in 1990 to $24.8 billion in 2009! ‘  This growth provides quite a bit of incentive for large food companies to build their bottomline by entering the “organic food” arena, even with only labeling and a  few organic ingredients. Here are excerpts from Dr. Mercola, FDA and Farm Wars articles which provide good information about determining how organic the food you buy really is and where to find the healthiest food.

What You Need to Know About Organic Labels

First of all, it is important to realize there are several different organic labels out there, but only one relates directly to foods: the USDA Organic seal. This seal is your best assurance of organic quality. Growers and manufacturers of organic products bearing the USDA seal have to meet the strictest standards of any of the currently available organic labels.

  • Products labeled “100% Organic” must contain only organically produced ingredients
  • Products labeled “Certified Organic” must contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients
  • The label “Made with Organic Ingredients” can contain anywhere between 70 to 95 percent organic ingredients

In order to ensure you’re actually getting your money’s worth, you need to make sure the food you buy bears the “100% USDA Organic” label.

The problem with the latter two labels is obvious. Anywhere from five to 30 percent of the ingredients may be conventionally-grown, so you’re still exposed to pesticide residues and other questionable ingredients. The “Made with Organic Ingredients” is clearly the most misused and misleading, as it allows for plenty of conventionally-produced ingredients.

A “100% Organic” product on the other hand cannot be irradiated, and cannot contain preservatives or flavor enhancing chemicals, nor traces of heavy metals or other contaminants in excess of tolerances set by the FDA.

It must also be grown and processed using organic farming methods that recycle resources and promote biodiversity—so it encompasses organic in a holistic way, from start to finish. Crops must be grown without synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes, petroleum-based fertilizers, or sewage sludge-based fertilizers, and livestock cannot be given growth hormones.

So, in terms of organic food, there’s really only one label that can provide you with any real measure of quality, and that’s the “100% USDA Organic” label.

Is Neotame Allowed in Organic Food?

Organic foods cannot contain synthetic additives, unless these additives have been petitioned and approved to appear on the National List of Approved and Prohibited Substances (7 CFR 205.605).

Emily Brown Rosen, Standards Specialist at the USDA’s National Organic Program, writes about Neotame: “For organic food, all additives must appear on the National List.” Neotame has never been petitioned or approved for inclusion on the National List, and therefore cannot legally be added to organic foods.

We see no evidence, and see no reason to suspect, that any organic certifying agents would allow organic food manufacturers to violate the federal standards by adding this synthetic sweetener.

Moreover, as a direct food additive, Neotame must be listed on the ingredients label, contrary to suggestions that this could be added to food in a stealth-like manner (21 CFR 101.100). We have not seen any evidence to suggest that Neotame is being added covertly to organic foods. Not only would organic manufacturers be breaking the law by adding this synthetic sweetener to organic foods, they would also be breaking the law by not including Neotame on the ingredient label.”

For the complete National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances under the USDA organic label, see this link.

Based on what I’ve seen, Neotame does not appear to be an allowed ingredient in USDA Certified Organic, or 100% Organic food, however, it may still be prudent to double-check the label of ingredients on products that state “Made with Organic Ingredients,” just in case…

How to Find Healthy Food—100 Percent Organic or Not

As deplorable as this situation is, it’s not surprising. Food companies, as any other primarily profit-driven company, simply cannot let such a swelling market niche go untapped.

However, if you realize that much of the organic labeling is hype, it becomes easier to navigate around the deception. In fact, many small family farms are actually fully organic even though they may not have gone through the expense of obtaining organic certification. So labels aren’t everything when it comes to healthful food.

To find the freshest, healthiest foods out there, here are a few guidelines to live by:

  1. Frequent farmer’s markets where you can find fresh locally-grown foods that are in season
  2. Join a community-supported agriculture program if one is available near you (it allows you to buy produce, meats and other foods directly from the farm)
  3. Take part in food coops in your area
  4. Plant a garden; even a small space can produce a lot of fresh food and herbs
  5. If you must shop in a supermarket, look for locally grown items, which are likely to be fresher than other foods
  6. Read the packaged food labels and don’t just take the organic label at face value. Remember that the only label guaranteeing the food to be truly organic; grown and manufactured according to organic standards, is the “100% USDA Organic” label.

Sources: DrMercola.com, Farm Wars, FDA

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