Finally! A Simple, Complete
Definition of Organic Food

Do you get frustrated when you try to find a straightforward, comprehensive definition of organic food?

Do you often find authors defining organic food by what it is not? Which leaves you to wonder: “Ok, then what is organic food?”

If you can relate to this irritating experience, then you have come to the right place!

On this page, I demystify the commonly confusing, incomplete organic food definition.

I provide the popular description of what it is not. And I also step outside of the box by clarifying what organic food actually is.

Additionally, I explain how you and the environment benefit when you choose organic instead of conventional food.

And you get the whole story without any fancy, overblown or scientific language!

So, let’s begin with where the definition of organic food comes from in the first place…

Who Establishes the Definition of Organic Food?

The National Organic Program (NOP) defines food as “organic.”

The NOP determines what is and is not organic food according to a set of national regulations. These regulations concern the production, processing and labeling of organic food.

Food is organic if the production and processing used to create it have met NOP standards for organic food. (And of course, food is not organic if it has been produced and processed with techniques that the NOP does not mandate for organic food).

If food fulfills NOP standards, it can then be labeled as organic during a process called organic food certification.

The NOP defines food as organic in various ways. No wonder why you see so many different organic food labels.

Learn how to decode these labels here.

Ok, enough about how the NOP labels organic food.

It is the NOP standards for production and processing that determine what can and cannot be organic food...

…or in other words, that establish the definition of organic food.

So…what are these regulations?

Organic Food Standards: How They Impact the
Definition of Organic Food

According to NOP standards, the production and processing of organic food contrast sharply with that of conventional food.

For this reason, authors often define organic food by telling you what it is not. They tell you food is organic if it is not produced and processed with conventional methods.

Which leaves the question: “What production and processing techniques make organic food what it is?”

To leave no question unanswered, I want to give you the whole definition of organic food which includes an explanation of not only what it isn’t…but also what it is.

The Whole Definition of Organic Food:
What Isn’t Organic Food? And What Is Organic Food?

In this section, I tell you both sides of the definition of organic food.

I outline what organic food is not produced and processed with according to NOP standards.

Then, I provide links to additional articles so you can get…

…all the details on the production and processing methods that make organic food what it is.

Definition of Organic Food: Organic Food Production

According to the NOP, food is organic if it is not produced with these conventional farming tools:

  • Synthetic fertilizers and sewage sludge. Conventional farmers use synthetic fertilizers and sewage sludge to fertilize their food crops.

    Why are these fertilization methods not allowed in the production of organic food?

    Because they are potentially toxic to the environment as well as to living things, including humans. Learn the dangers of synthetic fertilizers here and sewage sludge here.

    What then is used to fertilize organic food crops?

    Click here to learn the fertilization methods that organic farmers choose instead…and how this choice benefits us and the environment.

  • Synthetic pesticides. Conventional farmers use synthetic pesticides to control pests and other nuisances (insects, diseases, weeds, etc.) on their food crops.

    Like synthetic fertilizers, synthetic pesticides may harm us and the environment. Learn about the toxicity of synthetic pesticides here.

    What then is used to manage pests on organic food crops?

    Click here to learn the pest control methods that organic farmers choose instead…and how this choice advantages us and the planet.

  • Genetic engineering. Conventional production of food may involve the use of genetic engineering.

    Genetic engineering is used on plant and animal derived food for various purposes such as to guard against diseases and pests.

    You can probably guess that this scientific manipulation of food may have some scary consequences.

    Click here to learn more about the hazards of genetic engineering on food.

    What do organic farmers use instead of genetic engineering? Learn about the safer alternatives that they use to produce organic food here.

  • Hormones and antibiotics. Conventional farmers administer hormones and antibiotics to animals on their farms. These treatments boost the growth of animals that produce food and protect them from diseases.

    However, these conventional remedies endanger us and the environment.

    Learn what happens when hormones show up in food here.

    Click here to discover the consequences of the appearance of antibiotics in food.

    What then is used to encourage the growth of animals and to safeguard them from diseases on organic farms?

    Click here to learn the treatment of animals that organic farmers choose instead...and how this choice benefits us and the environment.

Additionally, food is organic if its production does not involve a conventional treatment of:
  • Water. How much water is used for agriculture? An astoundingly significant amount that you can learn about here. This is one reason why the treatment of this precious natural resource matters.

    Yet, conventional farming practices squander and pollute water. Find out more about the conventional treatment of water food here.

    Fortunately, organic farmers save water from being wasted and contaminated when they produce organic food. How? They use water conservation techniques that you can learn about here.

  • Soil. The quality and presence of soil may determine whether crops can grow to their full capacity or not. In short, soil is an essential part of the food production on any farm.

    However, conventional farming techniques treat soil unkindly and lead to a major agricultural problem called soil degradation.

    On the other hand, organic farmers conserve soil. This practice protects us and the environment from the consequences of soil degradation.

    Find a FREE e-book about soil conservation here!

    Also, view a brief contrast between soil degradation and soil conservation on the soil erosion page.

  • Biodiversity. Biodiversity is the large assortment of living things on the planet.

    Why is a vast array of life crucial for our sustenance? Because it presents us with more opportunities to support life.

    We lose these vital opportunities when the conventional production of food decreases biodiversity.

    Learn which conventional farming techniques reduce biodiversity…and the adverse impact that this decrease has on us and our world here.

    On the other hand, the organic production of food encourages biodiversity.

    Learn here which organic farming techniques promote the existence of a wide variety of life in our world…and the beneficial impact that this increase in biodiversity has on us and the environment.

  • Ecosystems. Living (plants, bacteria, etc.) and nonliving (air, water, etc.) parts of an ecosystem interact with one another. These interdependent activities support life. (Learn how here).

    The more efficiently the parts of an ecosystem work together, the better they are able to sustain life.

    However, the conventional production of food disrupts the interdependent activities of the different parts of ecosystems. Consequently, the ecosystem efficiency that we need to support life decreases.

    Learn more about the conventional farming techniques that disrupt ecosystem activities and the resulting consequences here.

    In contrast, the organic production of food promotes the life-supporting interactivity of the different parts of an ecosystem. As a result, the ecosystem efficiency that we need to sustain life increases.

    Learn more about the organic farming methods that encourage ecosystem efficiency and resultant benefits here.

Definition of Organic Food: Organic Food Processing

Food is produced on a farm. However, food is usually not a finished product until it is processed.

Processing is the use of various tools and additives that enhance food. Similar to how Photoshop “perfects” photos, processing touches up food so that it is ready to sell.

However, this procedure is not always good for us or the environment. For this reason, organic food only undergoes minute amounts of processing. On the other hand, conventional food is heavily processed.

Food is organic if it has not been processed with these conventional tools:

  • Irradiation (ionizing radiation). Food irradiation involves the use of ionizing radiation on conventional food. This processing aid helps to preserve food and to reduce the risk of food-borne diseases.

    …But radiation used on food?! Yikes!

    What about the workers who must handle radioactive materials when they process food with this technique? What about radioactive waste possibly polluting our environment? What about people like you and me who might have eaten foods that have undergone ionizing radiation?

    Learn in detail about the potential consequences of the use of food irradiation here.

    Click here to discover the methods used instead of food irradiation to process organic food…and how they better serve us and the environment.

  • Harmful food additives. Additives include artificial dyes, synthetic flavoring, chemical preservatives and other potentially toxic tools used to enhance food.

    Despite the dangers associated with food additives, conventional food is heavily processed with large amounts of them.

    Read how the heavy use of a multitude of additives in conventional food processing adversely impacts us and the environment here.

    On the other hand, a significantly smaller amount of additives are used to process organic food. These additives also must be from a list approved for organic processing.

    Learn here how this safe, selective use of food additives makes organic food processing a safe alternative to the conventional processing of food.

Beyond the Definition of Organic Food

If you enjoyed the definition of organic food page, here are some related pages that might interest you:

  • This page explains the organic food certification process.
  • This page helps you to decode the various organic food labels.




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