I aim to eat mostly organic foods and buy mostly organic skincare. But why? What does the term “organic” really entail?
First, let’s clarify a few of the basics.
1. When we talk about “organic”, we are referring only to the agricultural ingredients of a food or skincare item, or the agricultural materials in clothing, rugs, and other textiles.
- Agricultural ingredients are grown or raised on a farm — or fished from the ocean. For example: fruits, vegetables, flowers, herbs beef, chicken, eggs, fish, and lobster are all considered agriculture ingredients. Similarly, the cotton, hemp, (natural) latex, flax (linen), and wool that we use
- Minerals are not considered an agricultural product, as they not grown or raised on a farm. Minerals are mined in nature or can be synthesized in a lab.
2. The items we buy — whether food, skincare, or textiles — can include agricultural ingredients and manmade (synthetic) ingredients. For example:
- Food: A frozen pizza, for example, may contain agricultural ingredients such as pork sausage, onions, peppers, tomatoes, and flour. It may also contain lab-produced ingredients, such as artificial flavors and colors.
- Skincare: A body lotion may contain botanical (agricultural) ingredients such as coconut oil, jojoba oil, and lavender. It can also include a host of synthetic chemical dyes, thickeners, preservatives, etc.
- Textiles: A handbag may be made from linen or leather (both agricultural) that have been dyed with synthetic inputs and finished with metal zippers, snaps (all non-agricultural)
3. With regards to commonly used terminology, you’ll hear the words organic vs. conventional. Overall, these two terms are considered opposite sides of a spectrum.
- Organic farming methods aim to minimize chemical inputs and nurture our soil. GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are prohibited in organic farming.
- Conventional methods do what they can to generate as much farming output as possible. GMO seeds are regularly used.
There is debate over whether organic foods are any healthier than conventional foods and whether GMOs are bad. However, there is little debate over whether the overuse of chemicals in conventional farming is hurting our soil, leaching into our waterways, and otherwise harming our environment and the animals that live there… including us humans.
Organic vs. conventional farming practices
Conventional farming practices use chemicals and methods that make their farming operations highly efficient. This helps the farms to produce higher quantities of food and crops at a lower cost. From an economic perspective, that’s fantastic and is what every business wants!
Unfortunately, conventional farming methods are short-sighted. Their efficient practices pollute the environment, introduce unsafe chemicals to our food and water supply, and drain the land of life-sustaining nutrients without giving any back. The practices are often inhumane toward animals and both the practices and chemicals can endanger the health of farmworkers and consumers alike.
Organic farming practices, by contrast, minimize pollution, enhance the quality of the environment, reduce water usage and aim to protect the health of people, animals, plants, and our precious soil. Chemicals and farming methods that endanger these goals are prohibited on organic farms.
In contrast to conventional farms…
Organic farms DO:
- Use cover crops and animal manure to add nutrients to the soil.
- Manage weeds, fungus, disease, and insects through crop rotation, and other natural, biological controls (as opposed to controlling them with harmful chemicals).
- Allow livestock to graze on healthy pastures and accommodate natural foraging behaviors.
- Feed livestock 100% organic grass or grain when they are not grazing outdoors.
- Raise livestock naturally without the use of growth hormones or antibiotics.
Organic farms DO NOT:
- Use genetically modified organisms (GMO), synthetic fertilizers, or sewage sludge.
- Irradiate their agricultural products.
- Employ synthetic pesticides, except those on the USDA’s approved list.
What can be certified organic?
When we talk about farming practices, we’re not just talking about food — we’re talking about any agricultural product. If your bed sheets are a mix of cotton (natural) and polyester (synthetic), then they contain an agricultural ingredient (cotton) that may have been grown using either conventional or organic farming practices.
The same goes for shampoo, lipstick, aftershave lotion, carpeting, wine, and flowers. Any agricultural ingredients in these products may be either conventionally or organically grown. Food, flowers, clothing, textiles, alcohol, and personal skincare items may all be made from agricultural ingredients and, depending on how they were produced, may eligible for organic certification.
Products can contain multiple ingredients, some agricultural and some synthetic. As a result, there are varying degrees to which a product can be certified organic.
Multi-ingredient foods or products
- 100% Organic: If the label specifically says “100% organic”, then the product does not contain any synthetic ingredients. Every ingredient is agricultural and each has been grown using certified organic farming methods.
- Organic: If the label just says “organic”, then at least 95% of the product’s ingredients are agricultural and certified organic. The remaining 5% may be conventionally grown agriculture or approved synthetic materials.
- Made With Organic Ingredients: If the label says the product has been “made with organic ingredients” then more than 70% of the product’s ingredients are agricultural and certified organic. You can check the ingredients list to see which ingredients are certified.
- Ingredients list: Products with fewer than 70% certified organic ingredients may call out specific organic ingredients in the ingredient list, but their label cannot claim the product to be “organic” and cannot boast that it is “made with organic ingredients”.
- Single-ingredient items such as milk, flowers, or fresh fruit are either 100% organic or not organic at all. They cannot be partially organic and they do not contain any synthetic additives.
- Meat, poultry, eggs, and milk that are certified organic come from animals that have been raised according to standards intended to promote their health and welfare.