Monday, September 5, 2011

Organic or All Natural?

There has been a major debate in the food world on what is better for your body and environment Organic or All Natural. I thought I would put some facts together to help you make an informed decision for your family. Within the past year we have been living a greener life not only to help our health but the environment as well, recently my family and I had the opportunity to visit an all organic farm to do some research on what the big difference is in Organic versus All Natural products and what we found just like any other opinion was a biased view.

In this post we will be going over two of the world most respected and used groups that provide certifications to be labeled as organic or natural. The CCOF: California Certified Organic Farmers and the NPA: Natural Product Association.

The “CCOF promotes and supports organic food and agriculture through a premier organic certification program, trade support, producer and consumer education and political advocacy. From apples to zucchini, from almonds to wine, CCOF is involved in every facet of organics, with over 1,300 different organic crops and products, including livestock, processed products and services.”[i]

The “Natural Products Association is the nation’s largest and oldest non-profit organization dedicated to the natural products industry. The Natural Products Association represents over 1,900 members accounting for over 10,000 retail, manufacturing, wholesale, and distribution locations of natural products, including foods, dietary supplements, and health/beauty aids. NPA unites a diverse membership, from the smallest health food store to the largest dietary supplement manufacturer.”[ii]

While there are not many differences between USDA Organic and USDA All Natural processes, some of the differences are significant. Here is an overview of these differences to aid you in your decision making.

Organic certifications concentrates on the farming aspect. To be labeled as 100% organic you may not use synthetic (non-biological) fertilizer or synthetic pest management solutions in any way. The soil must be tested and have been clean of all synthetic products for a minimum of five years. Organic livestock can only be fed with crops that meet the above criteria. Ranchers may not use any synthetic antibiotics or hormones while the animals are being raised. This is where the organic process stops. Once the Animal or produce is sent to the production facilities it is no longer monitored by the USDA Organic umbrella.
For instance:
· All machinery that touches organic ingredients can be cleaned with steam or bleach.
· The Packaging of organic products can use a wide range of materials including Styrofoam trays, cellophane wrap and other Non-natural materials.
· Organic can also be frozen using conventional methods (slow freezing, below 32° F), which allows crystallization, and the possibility of harmful bacteria that need oxygen to grow like E Coli.

· Organic product is not required to be vacuumed sealed which allows the possibility of other harmful bacteria that need oxygen to live) like salmonella.
This is amazing and shocking to me as a professional chef for over twelve years you would think I would know this type of information.

There is a list of Nonagricultural (nonorganic) substances allowed as ingredients in or on processed products labeled as “organic” or “made with organic”. While not all of these items are bad they are not organic, isn’t that a contradiction? Here is a link to the complete list to the allowed substances. The only way to ensure you are buying a fully organic product is if it states “100% ORGANIC” on the label accompanied with a USDA and/or a CCOF label. Companies are only allowed to use the term 100% organic if they have met the detailed requirements by the CCOF or USDA. Here is a diagram of what passes as 100% organic and the different levels of organic certification.

Now let’s talk about All Natural product. USDA and the Natural Products Association (NPA) concentrates on the processing aspect of food production through very strict guidelines covering production. The farming aspect of All Natural is similar to Organic in that no synthetic fertilizer and no non-biological pest management solutions can be used during the growing cycle of the crops or raising of the animal.

All natural focuses on the current growing cycle, in other words, there could be trace amounts of synthetic fertilizer or non-biological herbicides still in the soil from previous years of non-natural growing. Fortunately, these are measured in nanograms (one billionth of a gram, 0.000000001g) and have not been shown to have any affects on humans. All Natural livestock can also be fed from crops that have these nanograms of residue in the soil. You are probably asking yourself, ‘how big is a nanogram’? Imagine a grain of rice, this weighs approximately 2-3 grams, now imagine that grain of rice divided by 2 billion, that would be a nanogram.

Once the crop is harvested or the animal is raised and given to the production facility, the strict guidelines of the USDA & NPA continue.
For instance:
· all machinery that touches the product must be steam cleaned and the use of bleach is prohibited.
· In order to receive a USDA or NAP certification only natural products can touch the food like rice paper or other all natural materials during packaging.
· Also, blast freezing is the only method allowed this means the item was frozen at 50° below zero instantly. This prevents crystallization and eliminates almost all anaerobic bacteria (bacteria that do not need oxygen to live) like E. coli.
· Food products must also be vacuum sealed, which eliminates all aerobic bacteria (bacteria that need oxygen to live) like salmonella.

I hope after reading this post it helps you realize the benefits of Organic and All Natural. There are many differences, and like all things we must weigh these differences and determine what is important to our families. My family’s decision is leaning towards focusing on All Natural products. We feel that the positive environmental and economical impacts of All Natural outweigh any potential nanograms of residual pesticides in the soil. We like the idea that All Natural is mandated to follow steam cleaning, all natural packaging, blast freezing and vacuum sealing procedures. While, Organic companies can be following those requirements on their own volition, it is not required and without labeling we would not know for sure who is doing what. Either way, purchasing 100% Organic or All Natural products is better than not looking for these types of products because of the high standards that they are held to. We appreciate the CCOF and NAP’s efforts on holding these companies to these higher standards and thus producing better products.
Here’s to Happy Green purchasing!



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