What Is Organic?

Do you know what "organic" means, and how it applies to you? Whether you are a vegetarian for ethical, health, or environmental reasons, organic products complement your beliefs and goals.

In the most basic sense, organic means grown or raised naturally. For crops, this means that no chemicals (e.g., pesticides), sewage sludge, radiation, or genetic engineering are used on the product. For organic animal products like eggs, dairy, and meat, there is an additional aspect: the chickens and cows are not given antibiotics or growth hormones. (When organic animals get sick, they are of course given antibiotics, but their organic classification is permanently revoked.)

In addition to the above, organic tends to indicate that the product is grown or raised with Mother Nature’s health in mind, and thus usually includes sustainable practices that will maintain or even improve the quality of the soil such as composting, crop rotation, and choosing plants which are suited to the region. In other words, you won’t find organic tomatoes grown in the desert, or organic strawberries from Alaska. Organic animals are nearly always raised (and, in the case of organic meat, slaughtered) humanely: organic chickens are cage-free, organic cattle are free-range, and the animals are usually vegetarian to boot.

In short, organic products are better for humans, animals, and the Earth. They don’t contribute to pollution, they promote humane treatment, and they contain only what nature meant for them to have – no chemical residues, growth hormones, or "Frankenfoods."

The downside is that organic products cost more because they are considerably more labor-intensive. Organic farmers cannot use low-cost shortcuts like pesticides and herbicides; they expend extra effort and time to get rid of pests and weeds naturally (for example, by using natural predators and weeding manually).

Traditional crops are cheaper at the check-out stand, but they do not take into account environmental costs. Thus, in the long run, they are a lot more expensive.

One other thing to know about organic is that it doesn’t apply only to food. Non-edible products like organic cotton and medicinal herbs are also available.

Organic certification is very strict. Independent companies such as QAI have been providing the strictest organic certification for more than a decade, and the USDA created its own certification standards and label in 2002.