Look up 'organic food', and you will find that 'organic standards' are set by national governments and international organizations and can vary quite a bit depending on where you live.
When it comes to animals, it does not necessarily mean it was able to live a free range life, pasturing the fields in the elements, was never vaccinated, given antibiotics or growth hormones. As far as vegetables, most governments allow 'certain types' of pesticides and fertilizers.
It might come to a surprise to you -or not- that from the research I have conducted so far, USDA 'approved organic' is a little more 'organic' than anywhere else in the world.
USDA: ... Organic agriculture practices cannot ensure that products are completely free of residues; however, methods are used to minimize pollution from air, soil and water(...) What is organic food? Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation (...)
Pretty good, I would say. The only thing is:
•we still do not know what these animals ate
•as far a the plants, we know they are produced without the use of 'conventional' pesticides and certain type of fertilizers. It would be interesting to see what the USDA understands under 'conventional' pesticides as opposed to 'non conventional' ones, and what kind of fertilizers they allow
•as far as I know, it does not regulate GMOs
The EEC legislation on organic food is a total joke. True to European unity, there is no unity:
Sustainable cultivation systems and a variety of high-quality products are the aim...Organic production must respect natural systems and cycles. Sustainable production should be achieved insofar as possible with the help of biological and mechanical production processes, through land-related production and without the use genetically modified organisms (GMO).
In organic farming, closed cycles with the use of the internal resources are preferred to open cycles with the supply of external resources. Ideally, external resources should be limited to organic resources from other organic farms, natural or naturally obtained materials and low soluble mineral fertilisers. In exceptional cases, however, chemical synthetic resources may be permitted if suitable alternatives are lacking. These are only authorised and listed in positive lists in the Annex of the Commission Regulation after a thorough investigation by the Commission and the Member States.
Since the European Union extends from the far North right down to Southern and into Eastern Europe, local climatic, cultural or structural differences can be compensated for through foreseen flexibility rules.
Foods may only be marked as "organic" if at least 95% of their agricultural ingredients are organic. Organic ingredients in non-organic food may be listed as organic in the list of ingredients, as long as this food has been produced in accordance with the organic legislation. In order to ensure better transparency, the code number of the control body must be indicated.
The use of genetically modified organisms (GMO) and of products manufactured from GMOs is still prohibited in organic production. Products containing GMOs may not be labelled as organic unless the ingredients containing GMOs entered the products unintentionally and the GMO proportion in the ingredient is less than 0.9%.
The Council Regulation applies to the following agricultural products, including aquaculture and yeast:
Living or unprocessed products
Seeds and propagating material
Collection of wild plants and seaweed is also included in the scope of this Regulation.
Multiple Annexes are attached to the Commission Regulation. Within these one can find the following:
Products permitted in organic farming, such as fertilisers, soil ameliorants and pesticides
Minimum requirements on the size of housing and exercise areas including pastures for organic livestock, depending on animal species and development stage.
Non-organic animal feed, feed additives and processing aids for the production of compound feed and premixtures permitted in organic farming
Non-organic ingredients, additives and processing aids permitted in organic food production (including yeast production).
•at first sight, the regulation seems very thorough...but oh boy, once you get to the multiple annexes and the flexibility they allow within each member state...you get sick to your stomach!
So are there any advantages at all to organic produce? Is it worth it paying top dollar? Loren Cordain remarks that the concentration of nitrate in organic produce is considerably lower than in fruits and vegetables that have been grown in conventional way. He also adds that studies demonstrate that organic produce shows reduced amounts of pesticides and toxic chemicals. "The environmental and dietary exposure to both pesticides and nitrates are associated with a greater risk for developing certain cancers", he writes (Cordain 2012:30-31).
I have to agree with Cordain: if cancer is of concern to you and if you can afford it, definitely go with organic!