Don’t confuse terms such as “free-range,” hormone free” or “natural” with organic. These food labeling terms are not regulated by law. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has created an organic seal. Foods bearing it are required to be grown, harvested, and processed according to national standards that include restrictions on amounts and residues of pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics.
When buying organic, look for the following regulated terms on food labels:
- Food labeled “100% organic” has no synthetic ingredients and can legally use the USDA organic seal.
- Food labeled “organic” has a minimum of 95% organic ingredients. It is eligible to use the USDA organic seal.
- Food labeled “made with organic ingredients” must contain at least 70% organic ingredients. It is not eligible for the USDA seal.
- Meat, eggs, poultry, and dairy labeled “organic” must come from animals that have never received antibiotics or growth hormones. “It is almost impossible to get organic meat,” Nestle notes.
It should be noted the USDA has yet to set standards for organic seafood or cosmetics. Most cosmetics are blends, including ingredients that may or may not be organic.
Whether or not you buy organic, you can do your part to reduce pesticide residues on foods with the following tips:
- Wash and scrub produce under streaming water to remove dirt, bacteria and surface pesticide residues, even produce with inedible skins such as cantaloupe. Do not use soap.
- Remove the peel from fruits and vegetables.
- Remove the outer leaves of leafy vegetables.
- Trim visible fat and skin from meat and poultry because pesticide residues can collect in fat.
- Eat a variety of foods from different sources.
- Join a co-op farm that supports community agriculture.