Organic food myths busted: Is it worth paying more for your food?
By Katy Galimberti, AccuWeather staff writer
Like any commercial product, food and beverage companies keep up with current trends in order to make a higher profit. Demand for organic food has boomed in the past few decades, and supermarkets shelves are bursting with organic products.
Organic food sales have grown by double digits every year since the 1990s, with sales near $47 billion in 2016. Now, nearly five percent of all food sales in the United States are organic, according to the Organic Trade Association (OTA).
Organic practices can be traced back to the 1940s, but popularity picked up in the '70s. In 1992, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) held the first national organic standards meeting, putting regulations into place.
But what does it really mean for a food to be called organic?
To be labeled as an organic food, it must be grown and processed according to USDA guidelines.
Produce can be called organic if it was grown on soil without prohibited substances, like synthetic fertilizers, for three years before harvest.
Meat products are organic if the animals were raised in living accommodations that allow for natural behavior, are fed 100 percent organic feed and are never injected with antibiotics or hormones.
Processed food cannot contain artificial preservatives, colors or flavors. The ingredients must be organic, outside of minor exceptions like the baking soda in baked goods or enzymes in yogurt.
Packaged food that indicates the product is "made with organic ingredients" contains at least 70 percent organic ingredients. If labeled "made with organic ingredients," it will not hold the USDA organic seal but still has to follow USDA guidelines.
A food with the USDA organic approval is certified to be organic from "all steps between the farm and the store," according to the USDA.
Dr. Joy Dubost, a registered dietitian in Philadelphia, does not recommend eating organic food over conventionally grown food.
"...the science does not support a distinction in nutritional quality or safety," she said in an email to AccuWeather.
While the common belief is that organic farming techniques are "safer" than conventional methods, there is no supporting scientific evidence, she said.
The Mayo Clinic suggests that studies have shown limited findings in terms of health benefits.
However, they said potential benefits could include a small to moderate increase in nutrients, especially types of flavonoids. Flavonoids contain antioxidant properties.
Organic meats may contain higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. The risk of bacterial contamination is the same regardless of organic or conventional methods.
Organic foods are often more expensive, leading consumers to make an economical choice.
Dubost said paying a higher price for organic food does not offer nutritional benefits or ensure that food is safer.
"If consumers choose to purchase organic, it is more for their own peace of mind or popular opinion rather than nutrition, quality or safety," she said.
In today's economy, millennials are driving the organic market. According to OTA, parents aged 18 to 34 are the largest group of organic buyers in America.
OTA research claims that organic farming "creates economic growth, reduces poverty levels and should be seen as a tool for stimulating rural economic development."
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