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When you hear the term “organic”, what comes to mind? For many Christians, the organic label is the gold standard when it comes to measuring the quality of our food and personal care products.

However, you might be unaware that the term organic can be used in many different ways per US Department of Agriculture guidelines. So, in this blog post, I’m going to walk you through a bit of history of how the label came into being. I’ll explain the different organic labels and what they mean so that you can make informed choices in your food and product selection. Lastly, I’ll weigh in on whether the term organic always means healthy.

A Brief History of Organic Foods

Let’s start at the VERY beginning. According to today’s standards, the food that God created in the Garden of Eden was organic. The food that Adam and Eve, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Samuel, Daniel, Isaiah, Jesus, Peter, Paul, all the other apostles and early Christians (as well as the rest of the world) ate was all organic. For most of human history, consuming organic food was the norm for everyone.

Today, we describe our normal food production practices as “conventional”.

However, if the dictionary definition of the word conventional means “based on or in accordance with what is generally done or believed”, then organic food methods would more closely fit that bill over the course of human history than how we produce most of our food today.

So what changed?

The shift in how modern farming practices have altered the way our food is grown is a fairly recent development. 

Discoveries about the role nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium played in plant nutrition in the mid nineteenth century led directly to the birth of today’s chemical fertilizer industry. By the early twentieth century, the science of manufacturing nitrogen had been perfected in such a way that it essentially freed farmers from the “natural constraints of plant nutrition.”1 

Coupled with improved transportation systems and industrial advancements, this new way of growing crops dramatically increased yields. But, along with the upside of growing more food, there have also been many downsides to deviating from natural agricultural practices

The same technological advancements that have increased plant yields, have also led to less crop diversity, decreased food security, increased soil erosion, a ripe environment for plant disease, and the attraction of more pests. 

To address these modern challenges, we’ve repeatedly turned to synthetic solutions, including the routine application of fungicides, pesticides and insecticides (the last two of which are just the clever remarketing of nerve gas first manufactured in Nazi Germany).

Adding insult to injury, for all of our modern advancements, we’re getting less nutrient value from foods grown using conventional methods.2

Getting Back to Basics

The 1940s marked the beginning of an interest in returning to traditional farming practices thanks to the groundwork laid by the Rodale Research Institute. However, it wasn’t until 1990 that Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act – the law that defined our existing national standards. Those rules would not be finalized and implemented until the fall of 2002.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the different organic labels and what they mean.

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What does Organic mean?

If a food or product is labeled organic, then that means it was produced without…

  • Antibiotics
  • Growth hormones
  • Conventional pesticides
  • Fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge (Yes, that does mean your conventionally grown products could have been grown with sewage sludge).
  • Bioengineering (genetic modification), or
  • Ionizing radiation

But that’s not all that you need to know to navigate the food aisle. There are also different organic labels, and their meaning differs widely.

The Different Types of Organic Labels

Here are the various organic labels you’re likely to encounter while shopping:

Contains Organic Ingredients Less than 70% of the product contains organic ingredients. A food or product could contain only 1% of organic ingredients and still use this label. 

Made with Organic Ingredients A minimum of 70% of the product contains organic ingredients. The remaining 30% can contain ANYTHING. If it’s a personal care product (which is not regulated) it could actually contain heavy metals or other known toxins and carcinogens. 

Organic 95% of the product is organic.

Certified Organic 100% of the product is organic.

 

Does organic mean healthy?

Not necessarily. 

Generally speaking, less chemical exposure means healthier bodies. To minimize the amount of toxins that your body is exposed to, purchasing organic foods and products will go a long way in supporting that goal.

However, keep in mind that organic junk food is still junk food. Just because it’s missing synthetic ingredients, that doesn’t mean it’s ideal for caring for your temple. Organic foods can still be heavily processed, and loaded with  harmful substances like sugar or salt. 

Also, organic products imported from different countries may not be adhering to the same rigorous standards that the US applies. There have been numerous reports in the media that imported foods may be fraudulently labeled organic

 

Conclusion

So now that you know how the term organic is used and what it really means, you can make better decisions about your purchases going forward. As Christians, we are called to treat our bodies as the temple of God. The closer we adhere to the way that God originally designed things to work in nature, the better off we’ll be. Prioritizing the use of certified organic products, whenever possible, is one way we can honor God with our bodies.

But again, choosing organic isn’t the only standard to apply when improving your food choices. Ideally, try to stick with choosing whole, minimally processed, locally-grown, God-made foods as the best option for your body. 

If you learned something new today, be sure to let me know by leaving a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

 

References

1 The Fertilizer Industry, World Food Supplies and the Environment, Paris : International Fertilizer Industry Association United Nations Environment Programme, Dec. 1998

2 Crinnion WJ. Organic foods contain higher levels of certain nutrients, lower levels of pesticides, and may provide health benefits for the consumer. Altern Med Rev. 2010 Apr;15(1):4-12. PMID: 20359265.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: DALILA JONES STITZ

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: DALILA JONES STITZ

Founder and CEO, Health Insurrection LLC

Dalila is a native Houstonian and currently lives in Switzerand with her husband and two kids. She received her health coach training through the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and Hallelujah Acres and teaches in-home bible studies and online courses.

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