- What are the differences between the labels organic, “green”, eco, bio and natural?
- The three main reasons for purchasing organic products are concerns related to health, product quality, and environmental protection.
- When we are talking about the “organic” labels, we must differentiate between “organic”, “made with organic (specified ingredients)” and “100% organic”.
- “Green products” differs from organic products in the controlled and limited use of synthesized fertilizer, pesticide, growth regulator, livestock and poultry feed additive and gene engineering technology.
- The USDA provides guidance on “natural” labeling on meat and poultry, but there is no formal rule. The FDA also does not have a formal rule to ensure the consistent and meaningful use of the “natural” labeling claim.
- Eco-Agriculture is an ecological rather than an industrial approach to food and fiber production. It represents a sophisticated system of farming, and offers farmers an alternative to increasing dependence on petrochemical inputs.
- The Governments’ policy for bio-food production encourages farmers to avoid using synthetic agro-chemicals and move to eco-friendly crop production, pesticide-free production, bio-farming, zero budget/natural farming and permaculture.
- Permaculture involves integrated farming methods that are based on principles learned from the study of natural ecosystems.
- Biodynamic farming is a method of organic agriculture, which recognizes farm as a living system, and where one activity affects the other.
Is food really just food? Should you eat something because it does or does not have a certificate that is “eco”, or “bio”? And what about “natural” and “organic”? Are these words representing the same thing?
Yesterday I went to a store and what I noticed was that, we are overexposed to commercials that poke our eyes with colorful leaflets of “perfect for your body” food or “100% natural!” … Sure.
Customers’ trust is everything these days, after all, the relationship between the industries and customers is mutualistic: the industries feed the customers and the customers feed the industries. It’s never-ending. Labels on foods can easily influence customers’ way of thinking and their choices. But, do they buy a good product?
Choosing the right food to eat is a complicated task. I know how this sounds – if our food source was limited, like in places where there is famine, drought or floods, we would be more grateful for everything in our lives. Still, we are surrounded not by one type of product, but by millions of choices within a type of product.
Take for example – milk; in the nearby store, these choices are available: cow milk, pasteurized milk (full cream, reduced fat, skim milk, calcium enriched, calcium and iron enriched, flavored…), goat milk, sheep milk, organic milk… One big shelf in the store – all reserved for milk. And other products? You’ve been in your nearby store, so you know what I’m talking about!
A research shows that most consumers have difficulty understanding the information provided by both – FOP (front –of – package) and BOP (back – of – package) food labels. (1)
Let’s find out what really hides behind the terms “bio”, “eco”, “natural” and “organic”.
ORGANIC – THE REAL DEAL
The three main reasons for purchasing organic products are concerns related to health, product quality, and environmental protection.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), an organic label suggests to the consumer that a product was produced using certain production methods. In other words, organic is a process claim rather than a product claim. (2)
Organic agriculture is regulated under various laws and certification programs. It is unique, because all synthetic inputs are restricted, and “soil building” crop rotations are administered.
The specific goal of organic agriculture is to strengthen sustainability. But, some negative effects may occur, which means that the production system is not an exclusive method for sustainable farming. The soil and water protection and conservation techniques of sustainable agriculture used to combat erosion, compaction, salinization and other forms of degradation are apparent in organic farming.
Properly managed organic farming reduces or eliminates water pollution and helps save water and soil on the farm (although incorrect use of manure can severely pollute water). A few developed countries urge or sponsor farmers to use organic techniques as means to fight water pollution (e.g. Germany, France).
Organic farmers rely on natural pest controls (e.g. biological control, plants with pest control properties) rather than synthetic pesticides which, when applied wrongly, are known to kill beneficial organisms (e.g. natural parasites of pests, bees, earthworms), cause pest resistance, and often pollute water and land. Reduction in the use of toxic synthetic pesticides, which the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates to poison three million people each year, should lead to improved health of farm families. (2)
When we are talking about the “organic” labels, we must differentiate between organic, made with organic (specified ingredients) and 100% organic.
- 100% organic – can be used to label any product that contains 100 percent organic ingredients (excluding salt and water, which are considered natural). Most raw, unprocessed farm products can be designated “100 percent organic.” Similarly, many value-added farm products that have no added ingredients—such as grain flours, rolled oats, etc.—can be labeled “100 percent organic” as well. (3)
- Organic label means that a product contains a minimum of 95% organic ingredients (excluding salt and water). Up to 5% of the components may be nonorganic agricultural products that are not commercially available as organic and/or nonagricultural products that are on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. (3) This list identifies the synthetic substances that may be used and the non-synthetic (natural) substances that may not be used in organic crop and livestock production. It further identifies a limited number of non-organic substances that may be used in or on processed organic products. (4)
- Made with organic (specified ingredients) can be used to label a product that contains at least 70 % organically produced ingredients (excluding salt and water). There are a number of detailed restrictions regarding the ingredients that form the nonorganic portion. The remaining 30% of ingredients do not have to be certified organic; federal standards ban the use of genetic engineering, irradiation and sewage sediment for all ingredients. (3)(5)
“GREEN” FOOD – ALMOST AS STRICTLY REGULATED AS ORGANIC
What about “green” food“? According to government classification standards, that type of food is produced without certain pesticides and fertilizers and with biological methods. (2)
So, “green products” differ from organic products, in the controlled and limited use of synthesized fertilizer, pesticide, growth regulator, livestock and poultry feed additive. The primary driver of demand for “green food” is the lack of confidence in the safety and quality of produce, along with improvement in living standards and the expansion of the middle class. (6)
NATURAL – FAKE
Next – we jump to the “Natural” category. According to the USDA, the “natural” label can be placed on a product “containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed (a process which does not fundamentally alter the raw product). The label must explain the use of the term natural (such as – no added colorings or artificial ingredients; minimally processed.)” This label in no way refers to the way an animal was raised, or if the animal was raised without hormones or antibiotics. (7)(8)
This is why the label has to include a statement explaining the meaning of the term “natural” (such as “no artificial ingredients; minimally processed”). (8)
Also, there is no organization behind the label. Each company can determine its own definition for the “natural” labeling claim. There are no standards as well. The USDA provides guidance on “natural” labeling on meat and poultry, but there is no formal rule. The FDA regulates processed food, produce and most fish, but again – the agency does not have a formal rule to ensure the consistent and meaningful use of the “natural” labeling claim. So, the label “natural” is not meaningful at all. (9)
The label “Natural”, however, must not be confused with the label “Certified Naturally Grown”, which is a whole different ball game. If you see this seal displayed at a farmers’ market, farm stand, or your local farm, it means that the farm’s methods are similar to those of a certified organic farm. The differences in the standards are minor, the main difference is in how those requirements are verified. There are fewer requirements for record-keeping compared with organic certification, since there is no annual review of records by a certification agency.
The bottom line is that the seal signifies that the farmer shares a commitment to farming procedures that build soil health, do not rely on synthetic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, animal drugs, and GMOs, and provide humane living conditions for farm animals. This type of food is yearly inspected by another farmer, a local extension agent, or three of the farm’s customers. (10)
ECO – NOT WHAT YOU THINK
Eco-Agriculture is an ecological rather than an industrial approach to food and fiber production. It developed in the 1930s (but the term was first used in 1970 by Charles Walters who was an economist, author, editor, publisher, and founder of Acres Magazine) partly in response to recognized natural phenomena and partly in reaction to the dominance of mechanism and specialization. Today, it represents a sophisticated system of farming, and offers farmers an alternative to increasing dependence on petrochemical inputs. Eco-Agriculture minimizes adverse environmental effects and promotes soil conservation and construction. (11)
Consumers believe that “eco-labeled” products taste better, which, at least in part, may be an effect of the label. However, studies show that there is almost no difference in taste between foods produced by eco-agricultural methods and conventional foods.
In a recent set of experiments, participants were asked to taste two cups of coffee. The cups actually contained identical coffee, although the participants were told that one cup was “eco-friendly” coffee and that the other was not. A systematic taste-preference bias for the eco-friendly alternative was revealed, especially in participants with a generally positive view toward eco-friendly consumer behavior. The participants were also ready to pay more for the “eco-friendly” coffee. Similar findings were achieved with other products, as well. The results point toward the same conclusion: an eco-label tends to enhance the taste sensory evaluation of consumable products. (12)
BIO –MORE COMPLICATED THAN YOU THINK
When we talk about “bio” it usually means that we’re talking about foods that are produced through organic farming.
The word “bio” is thrown everywhere these days. There’s bio-fuel, bio-farming, bio-food, bio-pesticides, bio-dynamic farming….
We’re gonna talk a bit about permaculture and bio-dynamic farming.
Consumers are concerned over the negative impact of agro-chemicals, which is why over the years the demand for safe fruits and vegetables has increased.
The Governments’ policy for bio-food production encourages farmers to avoid using synthetic agro-chemicals and move to eco-friendly crop production, pesticide-free production, bio-farming, zero budget/natural farming and permaculture.
Permaculture is standing out among the various forms of sustainable farming. It involves integrated farming methods that are based on principles learned from the study of natural ecosystems. It aims to bring food production closer to consumers, restore soil fertility, and cultivate land in such ways, that maximize long term productivity, while minimizing artificial inputs and effort. It depends on small-scale, land and energy-efficient, multi-cropping systems, by which it avoids and reverses problems caused by modern agriculture. Permaculture encourages the cooperative approach, and build communities around food production. It supports healthy and sustainable food habits. (13)
In the 1920s, an Australian philosopher by the name Rudolf Steiner, created the term biodynamic farming. It is a method of organic agriculture, which recognizes farm as a living system and where one activity affects the other. The term “biodynamic” comes from the Greek word bios meaning life and dynamikós meaning power. Hence biodynamic farming means “working with the power that creates and maintains life”.
BD farming has two main characteristics: using certain farming inputs from various herbal, mineral and raw materials processed in complex ways and finally applying them in small and minimal doses on soil and crops; and observation of rhythms in nature which go beyond the most obvious influences of sun, weather and season – we’re talking about lunar, planetary and stellar constellations. (14)
Biodynamic farms aim to become self-sufficient in compost, manure and animal feeds, and additionally, an astronomical calendar is used to determine favorable planting, cultivating and harvesting times. This is how BD farming differs from organic farming.
BD farming includes organic agriculture’s priority on manures and composts and prohibition of the use of artificial chemicals on soil and plants. The farming practices are learned through experience and from other farmers.
Biodynamic agriculture assumes that the farm is an organism, an independent entity with its own individuality. Integration of crops and livestock, recycling of nutrients, maintenance of soil and the health and well-being of crops and animals are all priorities of BD farming. The farmer, too, is considered as part of the whole. (14)
People need to be aware of where their food comes from. We live fast paced lives, and sometimes, we think it’s impossible to eat healthy or live “green”. It all starts with a shift in consciousness. Although, it is impossible to isolate ourselves from pesticides (which are literally everywhere around us), it is less difficult to choose unprocessed foods, fresh fruits and veggies. Start small, but think big… about health and environment.
“When health is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot manifest, strength cannot fight, wealth becomes useless, and intelligence cannot be applied.”
- Temple, Norman J. et al.: Food labels: A critical assessment. Nutrition. 2014. 30 (3): 257 – 260.
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USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). Agricultural Marketing Service: The National List. Online Source: https://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/organic/national-list (27.04.2018).
- Consumer Reports: Made With Organic [Specified Ingredients]. Online Source: http://greenerchoices.org/2016/11/16/made-with-organic/ (27.04.2018).
- McCarthy B, Liu HB, Chen T: Green Food Consumption in China: Segmentation Based on Attitudes Toward Food Safety. Journal of International Food & Agribusiness Marketing. 2016. 28 (4): 346-362. Online Source: https://researchonline.jcu.edu.au/39263/9/39263%20McCarthy%20et%20al%202015.pdf (27.04.2018).
- Online Source: http://www.twinoaksfarm.net/what-do-food-labels-really-mean (27.04.2018).
- USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). Food Safety and Inspection Service: Meat and Poultry Labeling Terms. Online Source: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/food-labeling/meat-and-poultry-labeling-terms/meat-and-poultry-labeling-terms/!ut/p/a1/jZDNCsIwEISfxQcI2doqepSCtFVbRNSYi6ya1kCblCYq-vRaREHxp7unZb5hh6GcMsoVHmWGVmqFeX3z7hqm0HX6PkRJ3xlCGC-mycj3oTfr3IDVDyB2G_q_zAD–aMGD9rVxJ9klJdo90SqVFOWCUtQmZOoDGWp1jtiMBX2TFLcWmL2QtiHkONG5FJllBUCa9eOlPqQ2-r8lIgVVWH-A0vKX-OCc9swdmdeEMUuJN478KHPO_C9sLKYs8t4EIAMW1dofMrM/#14 (27.04.2018).
- Consumer Reports: Natural. Online Source: http://greenerchoices.org/2016/11/16/natural-label-review/ (27.04.2018).
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- FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations): Strategic Plan 2016 – 2020 for the Non-Sugar Sector. 2016. Page: 43. Online Source: http://extwprlegs1.fao.org/docs/pdf/mat159356.pdf (27.04.2018).
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