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Helpful suggestions on selecting organic food

by Alison Church
Dietetic Intern
Organic meat, poultry, eggs, dairy and produce now are offered alongside the versions most people have bought for years.

While selecting between organic and non-organic items may be confusing, causing some to be suspicious of what is in the non-organic and what constitutes organic, the choice often can be driven by cost, since organic foods tend to be more expensive.
Determining what is organic, and whether a product maker can claim so on labels and packaging, is based upon criteria established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which states that an organic food must be:

  • produced by farmers using renewable resources and demonstrating a commitment to enhance the environment;
  • meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products that come from animals that are free of growth hormones;
  • produced without using most conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients, bioengineering or ionizing radiation;
  • certified by a government-approved inspector to ensure the product or its production meets USDA organic standards before being labeled organic.
 With a better understanding of the difference between organic and non-organic foods, deciding on whether one should purchase an organic tomato, for instance, or the non-organic tomato should include considerations such as:
  • Limiting one’s exposure to pesticides. Choose organic versions or thoroughly wash the skin of non-organic fruits and vegetables before eating it.
  • Preferring nutritious and delicious foods. Some evidence has shown that organic foods may contain more antioxidants, however, not enough research is available to determine to what extent. While the USDA certifies organic foods, it does not claim these foods are safer or more nutritious.
  • Whether or how a product is really organic. Carefully read the label on a product to determine how organic the product actually is. The three classifications for organic foods include: 100 percent organic, organic and made with organic ingredients.
  • Budgetary constraints. Organic products are generally a bit higher in price due to more expensive farming practices and lower crop yields. Ask if the benefits outweigh the cost.
The decision to choose organic or non-organic foods may involve a number of considerations including price, food safety, perceived nutritional benefits and environmental considerations. Proper handling and washing ready-to-eat foods is always advised, regardless of the organic claim.

Friday, Feb. 20, 2009

The Catalyst Online is published weekly by the MUSC Office of Public Relations for the faculty, employees and students of the Medical University of South Carolina. The Catalyst Online editor, Kim Draughn, can be reached at 792-4107 or by email, Editorial copy can be submitted to The Catalyst Online and to The Catalyst in print by fax, 792-6723, or by email to To place an ad in The Catalyst hardcopy, call Island Publications at 849-1778, ext. 201.