Many of you who have read this blog from the start know my son, Button, is a cancer survivor. The fact that I tried my best to be organic, clean with as many green products as possible, and avoid obvious harmful situations such as living next to a gas station did not change the painful news I received about my then five-year old son. I cannot beat myself up about it, however. That would serve no purpose at all. Instead, I can put even more effort into living the non-toxic life.
Let’s begin with a good understanding of how food is labeled. I was once a sucker for the “Natural” label. Unfortunately, that word can be placed on anything being sold whether it is natural or not. There is no government or private agency that certifies any product as natural, or actually agrees on a definition of the word itself. Check out this video produced by the Cornucopia Institute.
The best guideline for buying organic food is to look for the USDA label. This easy to identify, government certification label helps to put consumers’ mind at rest about the products being bought. But…there is more to know than just what the label looks like. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) clearly sets out how they evaluate the food they place their labels on. It’s just a matter of doing a little digging to find out the facts. According to the USDA, there are strict rues for how much of the product has to be organic in order to receive certification:
Products labeled as “100 percent organic” must contain (excluding water and salt) only organically produced ingredients and processing aids.
Products labeled “organic” must consist of at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt). Any remaining product ingredients must consist of nonagricultural substances approved on the National List including specific non-organically produced agricultural products that are not commercially available in organic form.
So not every product sporting the USDA label is automatically all organic. Good to know! Thankfully, there USDA does have rules about what else can go into processed food that mentions being organic in some way:
Processed products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients can use the phrase “made with organic ingredients” and list up to three of the organic ingredients or food groups on the principal display panel. For example, soup made with at least 70 percent organic ingredients and only organic vegetables may be labeled either “soup made with organic peas, potatoes, and carrots,” or “soup made with organic vegetables.” Processed products labeled “made with organic ingredients” cannot be produced using excluded methods, sewage sludge, or ionizing radiation. The percentage of organic content and the certifying agent seal or mark may be used on the principal display panel. However, the USDA seal cannot be used anywhere on the package.
Other considerations when checking out organic foods include:
Any product labeled as organic must identify each organically produced ingredient in the ingredient statement on the information panel.
The name of the certifying agent of the final product must be displayed on the information panel. The address of the certifying agent of the final product may be displayed on the information panel.
There are no restrictions on use of other truthful labeling claims such as “no drugs or growth hormones used,” “free range,” or “sustainably harvested.”
Interestingly, Grass-Fed is a USDA certification but it does not mean organic. Animals that are grass-fed may also be given antibiotics, pesticides and hormones! Yup…the picture of animals chewing freely on grass does not mean the are free of the toxins you are trying to avoid.
While there are many considerations when buying food that does not contain toxins which potentially cause cancer and other serious illnesses, a good place to start would be to look for that little green USDA label. Just don’t assume the label means 100% organic. Check out the other information on the package and fully understand the product before buying.
More on organic labels in future posts…we need to know what to look for in goods from abroad too.