You Must Know This When Shopping for Organic Products - Healthy Living Association

You Must Know This When Shopping for Organic Products

The organic food and beverage market is one of the shining stars of the modern U.S. economy. During the past two decades, as most general grocery categories witnessed moderate growth, or stagnation, organic foods, produce and other products have taken off.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) notes that organic product sales have surged in the last ten years. In 2003, for example, the industry sold about $10 billion worth of foods, beverages and related grocery items. By 2014, the market had quadrupled in size, to $40 billion.


About half of all “organic” product sales include produce sold in grocery stores or at local farmers’ markets. One of the most interesting developments in recent years involves consumers. Just a decade ago, according to USDA, buyers of organic foods were a tiny minority of consumers who did so for lifestyle and philosophical reasons. Nowadays, the trend has gone mainstream. Literally everyone seems to be discovering the advantages of organic produce, packaged foods, beverages and cosmetics.

As in every growing retail sector, there is plenty of misinformation and inaccurate reporting about organic foods. Consumers who want to buy organic goods should know the key facts about this relatively new, fast-growing segment of the retail market.


The two primary questions that consumers ask about organic products are: Is it healthier than non-organic? And, is the higher price of organic products justified? Indeed, one of the most common reasons people give for “going organic” is their personal health. Once they start shopping at the local market for organic produce, they notice the obvious price differences and begin to wonder whether the quest for healthful produce and other products is a smart move.

The Case for Organic Eating

By definition, organic foods are grown in the absence of synthetic fertilizers, genetically modified organisms, pesticides, sewage, and radioactive ions. Organic meats, butter, milk, and eggs are from animals that have never been treated with growth hormones or antibiotics.

So, what is the case for organic eating?

  • Most organic advocates cite five reasons in favor of their cause: Organic foods taste better, are better for you, are better for the earth, are safer (due to the lack of insecticides), and encourage better treatment of animals.
  • Even though the cost for organic beverages and foods is usually higher than for non-organic goods, consumers are voting with their wallets as national sales figures continue to go up each year. For better or worse, people are flocking to all things organic, from produce and packaged goods, to milk and cosmetics.
  • According to the Organic Trade Association, the growth rate of organic product sales has been about 20 percent per year since the early 1990s. That rate far outpaces every other grocery category and bodes well for the organic sector because there has been no slacking off for about 25 years. Foods with the “organic” label have been around for almost 30 years, but didn’t hit their sales stride until about 1992.
  • Organic foods must be grown and raised (in the case of animals) according to very strict USDA standards. This has been the case since 2002 for any producer who wants to use the “USDA Organic” label that attests to the certification process.
  • Animal welfare plays a big role in organic eating. USDA guidelines require that organic farms must allow “organic” animals to have full access to pasture and the outdoors. For any product to carry the USDA label for organics, the producer must allow his or her farm to be inspected for compliance, and must attest to the fact that labeled products contain no less than 95 percent authentic organic ingredients.
  • One reason the sales of organic items has steadily increased, according to the USDA, is the certification process. Prior to 2002, pretty much anyone could slap an “organic” label on produce or milk and there was no way for a consumer to know whether it was true or not.
  • Organic foods have about a third less pesticide residue than non-organics. Whether this is a significant health advantage is still a question. Most consumers who buy organics note “pesticides” as one of the main reasons they do so. However, even on non-organic foods, the level of pesticide residue is very low. So low, in fact, that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says all foods sold in stores contain “insignificant” levels of these chemicals.
  • Some organic advocates wonder whether a lifetime of consuming pesticide-laden foods might lead to health risks, which is why they buy organic items whenever they can. “Who wants to take a risk?” is the controlling attitude.
  • So far, no major scientific studies have been done to measure the amounts of nutrients in organic foods compared to non-organic ones. However, there has been limited research that points to slightly higher levels of antioxidants, minerals, and vitamin C in organic foods and beverages.
  • It is a fact that organic foods tend to taste better, but the reason for this phenomenon might have more to do with freshness than organic production. Much supermarket “organic” labeled foods and beverages have been brought to the shelf much sooner after harvest than other items. That is the most likely explanation for the better taste of organics; as a rule, it’s fresher.
  • People have to decide for themselves whether the added cost of organic foods is justified. One way to get the most out of a grocery dollar is to purchase organic varieties of non-organic foods that tend to have very high pesticide levels. These include things like green beans, spinach, apples, green onions, squash, peas, berries, pears and peaches.


The Ups and Downs of Organic Eating

The most common reason given for not eating organic foods is, “The prices are too high.” There are still huge numbers of consumer for whom the advantages of organic foods are outweighed by price premiums.

Fortunately, as organic produce, cosmetics, milk and other items become increasingly more common, some of the larger retail grocery chains have begun to bring prices more in line with conventionally-produced foods. Many segments of the retail market experience price premiums in the early years of their existence, and organic food is no exception.

One way to reduce sticker shock on organics is to buy from a farmer’s market. Most cities in the U.S. now have at least one such marketplace. Prices at these once-per-week, or oddly-scheduled markets are typically much lower than at grocery chains. This applies to both organic and non-organic foods.

Most consumers who seek out organic foods and beverages tend to blend them in with the rest of their groceries, buying a few organic items here and there, and slowly building up to a “full organic” kitchen when budgets allow.

Consumer tastes have changed drastically in the last three decades. As recently as 1987, there were no major national grocery chains in the U.S. that offered organic products of any kind. Today, about five percent of all food products on store shelves are USDA certified organic; and that number continues to grow each year.

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