For quite some time there has been an explosion of health food products on the market, specifically advertised as either organic foods or natural foods. Most people don't know that there is a major difference between organic and natural foods, believing that the two are interchangeable. This article will help you understand exactly what is the difference between these two designations, and how products labeled in this manner are defined and marketed.
Natural vs. Organic: One and the Same?
There is a huge difference between a food labeled "natural" and one that is labeled "organic." Unfortunately these two titles get tossed around a lot, to the point where no one seems to be able to determine which is which, creating a lot of confusion for people who are truly concerned with purchasing the best and healthiest products available.
Basically, the difference between natural and organic stems from an official designation set forth by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for organic foods. In 2000, the USDA published its official position on organic foods and made its production a matter for strict supervision and legal regulation. While there are several criteria for organic foods, in order to be labeled "organic," food must have been grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides (with some rare exceptions), antibiotics, irradiation, genetic engineering, or growth hormones. According to the USDA, "organic" is a labeling term that denotes products that are produced under the authority of the Organic Foods Production Act. Additionally, organic farming involves growing systems that enhance biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity.
On the other hand, natural foods have no legal or federal supervision at all, and are not defined by any law or criteria. While the USDA does require that products list their ingredients in descending order of concentration, there is no official stipulation for the amount of natural ingredients a food must contain to be deemed as such. A food labeled "natural" is usually considered to contain less preservatives and chemical additives than other kinds of processed foods, though since there is no way to legally supervise the product, no sure answer may be set forth.
What Makes a Product Organic?
A good example of the difference between natural and organic is a prepackaged fruit bar. If the bar contains only certified organic ingredients it may be labeled as 100% organic. If it contains 95% organic ingredients, it may also be labeled as organic. If the bar is 70% organic, it may be labeled as "made with organic ingredients." Anything below this, however, does not have the right to be labeled "organic" or carry the USDA seal. If the fruit bar were simply made with a majority of fruit and nut ingredients, however, it could potentially be called "natural" while still containing a large amount of added refined sugars, preservatives and chemical components.