One of the first proponents of eating organic food was Max Gerson, MD, who instructed his cancer patients to eat organic fruits and vegetables, starting in the 1920s. Interest in organic food dramatically increased in the 1960s, when several pesticides and fertilizers were found to be toxic to humans or animals. Third-party organic certification was first instituted in the 1970s by the some regional organic farming groups. Growers, consumers, and others in the agricultural industry began pushing for government-defined organic labeling in the 1980s.
In the 1990s, the U.S. Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA), which required the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop national standards for organically produced agricultural products to assure consumers that products marketed as organic meet certain standards. The National Organic Program (NOP), part of the USDA's marketing service division, was created to fulfill the Organic Foods Production Act's directives. Neither the OFPA nor the NOP regulations address food safety or nutrition.
In 2002, the USDA finalized its organic definition and inspection program, which was the most stringent in the world at that time. Since then, a few attempts to relax the guidelines have occurred, primarily in 2003 and 2005.
According to the Organic Trade Association's 2006 Manufacturer Survey, the U.S. organic industry grew 17% overall to $14.6 billion in consumer sales in 2005: organic foods increased by 16.2% and represented $13.8 billion in consumer sales and non-food organic products increased 32.5% to total $744 million.
Currently, in the United States, a product is considered "organic" if the food, the farm, handlers, and processors of that food all meet specific criteria from the USDA. Meat is organic if the animals do not receive any antibiotics or growth hormones and produce is considered organic if it was grown without most conventional pesticides or synthetic or sewage sludge-based fertilizers. Genetically modified (GMO) or bioengineered animals and crops are not allowed to be labeled organic, nor are products that have been ionized with radiation.
Many people who choose to consume organic food vs. non-organic food do so because they believe that the food is more nutritious, contains fewer toxins from additives and pesticides, is more humane for livestock, and/or is more ecological.
The USDA does not claim that organically produced food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food.
Currently, high quality studies supporting increased overall health for consumers of organic foods are lacking as are long-term safety studies. These studies are difficult to design and implement.
Many people choose to eat organically because they think that organic food is more nutritious or healthier. However, consumption of organic food is a controversial issue and high quality human research is lacking in this area. Specifically, claims of higher nutritional value and lower toxic contaminants in organic foods currently have little scientific evidence supporting pronounced benefits. Some studies have shown that organic food has a lower amount of pesticides, but research has not confirmed that lower amounts of pesticides are causally related to preventing certain diseases or conditions. In addition, some experts believe the importance of ingesting a well-balanced diet may overshadow the importance of organic vs. non-organic foods. Although the benefits or risks to the patient currently lack definitive scientific evidence, the positive impact of organic farming on sustainable agriculture is more promising.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), "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. Before a product can be labeled 'organic,' a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to the local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too."
Only products meeting all USDA requirements may use the "USDA Organic" seal on their label. Use of the USDA organic seal is voluntary; however, knowingly labeling a non-organic food with the USDA organic seal can incur a $10,000 fine for each violation.
According to the USDA, a product labeled as "100% organic" contains nothing nonorganic; a product labeled as "organic" must contain 95% or more organic ingredients; and a product labeled as "made with organic ingredients" contains 70-95% organic ingredients. If a product contains less than 70% organic ingredients, the word organic may only appear on the ingredient information panel.
Products labeled "natural," "pesticide-free," "naturally grown," "free-range," or "hormone-free" are not necessarily organic.
These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
* Key to grades
A: Strong scientific evidence for this use B: Good scientific evidence for this use C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use D: Fair scientific evidence for this use (it may not work) F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likley does not work)
Tradition / Theory
The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.
Many complementary techniques are practiced by healthcare professionals with formal training, in accordance with the standards of national organizations. However, this is not universally the case, and adverse effects are possible. Due to limited research, in some cases only limited safety information is available.
There is currently a lack of safety information on organic food conclusively due to insufficient human study. Organic food is generally assumed to be at least as safe as conventional foods.
In the United States, the Department of Agriculture is responsible for defining and enforcing the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA).
While organically grown foods may be lower in pesticide residues, there has been very little documentation of residue levels.
Parasitic infection may occur by eating organic food imported from endemic areas of infection.
The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.