Organically grown produce cannot be grown with the use of chemically based fertilizers or synthetic pesticides. It does not necessarily mean that no pesticides were used, but any pesticides would have to be regulated and non-synthetic. It is also not allowed to be genetically modified, and has not been irradiated.
In order to be considered organic, animal products need to come from animals that were fed with an organic diet and were raised under certain conditions that promote animal health and welfare. Organically raised animals cannot be fed antibiotics or other growth hormones.
Technically, the food you grow in your own home vegetable garden could be considered organic if you don’t use synthetic pesticides and you stick with natural fertilizers. However, you couldn’t claim your garden food as officially organic unless you earn approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In order to use the “organic” label on foods sold in the U.S., food growers and producers must adhere to regulations set forth in the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, among other restrictions. It can be cumbersome and expensive to apply for and receive organic certification, which is why many growers don’t bother doing so, even if their food is organically grown.
Organic Foods and Health
While the organic label on food means that it was grown according to regulations, there is still rampant debate about the health implications of organic growing. A 2014 study in the British Journal of Nutrition presents a compelling case for organic food, and is often cited in debates on the issue. The study is based on a meta-analysis of 343 peer-reviewed studies on organic foods, and found that organic foods may be more nutritious and safer than non-organic foods.
- Antioxidants in Organic Food. The study found that concentrations of a range of antioxidants (such as polyphenols) were substantially higher in organic crops. Antioxidants play a role in the reduction of risk for a variety of chronic diseases, including certain cancers.
- Effects of Cadmium. The study also found that conventionally grown crops had four times the level of pesticide residues compared with organic crops, and also had significantly higher concentrations of cadmium. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, long-term oral exposure to low levels of cadmium can result in kidney damage and bone fragility in humans, and has been linked to anemia, liver disease, nerve damage, and brain damage in animals.