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What Does “Organic” Really Mean?

March 20, 2012 •  17 comments.

 •  Blog, News

Now I’m not sure about you, but when I first heard the term “organic” several years ago, I dismissed it. It connoted a “status” and conjured up two different images: the lifestyles of the rich and famous and an alternative, hippie lifestyle. Since I didn’t relate to either, it seemed to be a select way of eating for a select few.

Boy, was I wrong.

The term “organic” actually refers to the way agricultural products are grown and processed. It includes a system of production, processing, distribution and sales that assures consumers that the products maintain the organic integrity that begins on the farm, according to the Organic Trade Association (OTA).

The U.S. Congress adopted the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) in 1990 as part of the 1990 Farm Bill. This action was followed by over a decade of public input and discussion, which resulted in a National Organic Program final rule published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in December 2000 and implemented in October 2002, according to the Organic Consumers Association.

These stringent standards put in place a system to certify that specific practices are used to produce and process organic agricultural ingredients used for food and non-food purposes.

National organic standards set out the methods, practices and substances used in producing and handling crops, livestock and processed agricultural products. The standards include a national list of approved synthetic and prohibited non-synthetic substances for organic production.

In other words, just to give an example using the egg recall disaster, the way that the chickens were treated on the farms recalling the eggs wouldn’t fly in organic agriculture and livestock production which place a higher standard on both the treatment and the livestock feed of the animals.

Organically produced foods also must be produced without the use of:

  • antibiotics
  • synthetic hormones
  • genetic engineering
  • other excluded practices
  • sewage sludge
  • irradiation

Cloning animals or using their products would be considered inconsistent with organic practices. Organic foods are minimally processed without artificial ingredients, preservatives, or irradiation to maintain the integrity of the food.

This is a key definition that is worth repeating (especially for those of us trying to reduce our families’ exposure to sewage sludge, synthetic growth hormones and antibiotics in food):

Organically produced foods also must be produced without the use of
antibiotics, synthetic hormones, genetic engineering and other excluded practices, sewage sludge, or irradiation.
Cloning animals or using their products would be considered inconsistent with organic practices.
Organic foods are minimally processed without artificial ingredients, preservatives, or irradiation to maintain the integrity of the food.

National organic standards require that organic growers and handlers be certified by third-party state or private agencies or other organizations that are accredited by USDA. Anyone who knowingly sells or mislabels as organic a product that was not produced and handled in accordance with the regulations can be subject to a civil penalty of up to $10,000 per violation.

Products labeled “100% Organic” and carrying the “USDA Organic” seal are just that – they contain all organically produced ingredients and none of those ‘bullet points’ listed above.

The scrutiny that these foods undergo is enormous and expensive, driving prices at the cash register. But when it comes to protecting your health, sometimes you just might want to pay a little bit more in the grocery store in order to pay less at the doctor’s office. And check with your local farmers, as they often adhere to these standards, yet can’t afford the fees associated with labeling their products.

And should you choose to invest in your health this way, you’ll be joining a growing segment of the population and are not alone. The U.S. organic industry grew 21 percent overall in 2006 with organic foods and beverages continuing to be one of the fastest growing segments in the overall $598 billion food market.

Organic foods are increasingly sold in mass market grocery stores like Wal-Mart, Costco, Kroger and Safeway which represent the largest single distribution channel, accounting for 38 percent of organic food sales in 2006. Large natural food chains, along with small natural food chains or independent natural groceries and health food stores, represented about 44 percent of organic food sales. About 2 percent of organic food is sold through farmer’s markets.

If you’re anything like me, you might have rolled your eyes at this whole thing a few years ago, dismissing it as an expensive food fad. Nothing could be further from the truth. And while none of us can do everything, we can all do one thing. So the next time you are in your grocery store, consider purchasing something new and investing in your health with your shopping cart. You just might end up spending a little less time and a little less money in the doctor’s office if you do!

Source: The Organic Trade Association (OTA) and Organic Trade Association’s 2007 Manufacturer Survey (Because USDA does not yet do comprehensive market studies of organic sales, as it does for conventional U.S. agriculture.)

Looking for Recipes? 120 New Allergy-Friendly Foods for Families

March 17, 2012 •  no comments.

 •  Blog, Getting Started, News, Recipes

Written by Robyn O’Brien

When I was asked to write the foreword for Kiwi Magazine’s new cookbook, Allergy-Friendly Food for Families, I was totally intimidated.  Because in the beginning, I couldn’t really cook.

But as I leaned into it, the words began to flow, and with the release of this extraordinary resource for food-sensitive and food-allergic eaters, I thought I’d share them below, because the book is an incredible tool, offering 120 gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, egg-free and soy-free recipes everyone will love.

The landscape of childhood has changed. In the last several years, we have seen jaw-dropping increases in the rates of allergies, autism, ADHD and asthma, earning these conditions the nickname “the 4 As” and our children the title, “Generation Rx.”

Today, it is estimated that food allergies affect at least 1 out of 17 kids under the age of three, with a study showing a doubling of the peanut allergy between 1997 and 2002. And according to an October 2008 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there has been a 265% increase in the rate of hospitalizations related to food allergic reactions.

And as we work to protect our food allergic families from the hidden dangers that foods can present, a growing number of us are finding our ways into the kitchen in an effort to prepare foods that are both safe and nutritious for our families.

For some, like me, this may be an intimidating task. Because a few years ago, I couldn’t cook. But when my youngest child had an allergic reaction one morning over breakfast, which in all candor included blue yogurt, frozen waffles and scrambled eggs, life changed. And like so many of you, I was thrown onto this new landscape of childhood and into the kitchen in an effort to manage these food allergies.

And in learning to cook, I realized that we can take the fear out of food and make it fun.

To be honest, I’ve burnt everything from pancakes to noodles, but I’ve also learned that the most important ingredient in any recipe is love.

So I invite you to pull up a chair, flip through Allergy-Friendly Food for Families and soak in the love and wholesome goodness that are tucked into these pages. Because Allergy-Friendly Food for Families is an invaluable resources for those interested in protecting the health of their families.

And remember, while none of us can do everything, all of us can do something. So pick a recipe and get started,

Because with inspiration, practical suggestions, heartfelt instructions and real world solutions, Allergy-Friendly Food for Families is both a sound investment in the health of your family and a resource that will pay dividends for a lifetime.

You can pick up a copy of Allergy-Friendly Food for Families at Barnes and Noble, your local retailer or on Amazon. To learn more, please visit Kiwi Magazine.

AllergyKids Chats with Living Without Editor, Alicia Woodward

March 15, 2012 •  no comments.

 •  Blog, News

AllergyKids’ founder, Robyn O’Brien, had the opportunity to sit down with Alicia Woodward, the editor of Living Without Magazine.  The dialogue that they had was extraordinary, candid and unexpected, and it inspires hope that together, we can create the changes we want to see in the health of our family and food system.

Please take a moment to watch this inspiring (and patriotic!) interview, and remember, that while none of us can do everything, all of us can do something.  And love can serve as a rocket fuel for creating change if you give yourself permission to just do one thing.