Organic Food FAQ

Thanks to the ever-increasing demand for organic foods, availability is greater than ever. Yet you likely still have questions such as “is organic food better for you?” or simply “why eat organic at all?” We’ve supported organic growers since we opened our doors in 1980, and we do our best to answer your questions honestly, based on the most current scientific research.

What does "organic" mean?

Organic products are grown in environmentally friendly ways. Toxic or persistent pesticides and other agricultural chemicals are prohibited. There is a focus on renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality. The label “organic" denotes products produced under the authority of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Organic Rule. And, according to the USDA, “The principal guidelines for organic production are to use materials and practices that enhance the ecological balance of natural systems and that integrate the parts of the farming system into an ecological whole.”

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What are the benefits of organic food?

See: Why eat organic?

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Why eat organic?

Avoiding agricultural chemicals is one of the top reasons to eat organic food. In general, according to research by The Hartman Group, consumers who buy organic products cite health/nutrition, taste and food safety as the top motivators for their purchases. Environmental effects are also a strong reason to buy and eat organic products.

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What are the most important foods to buy organic?

Basically, it depends on what’s most important to you: health, flavor, budget and/or the environment. New purchasers of organic products usually start by putting produce, dairy items and baby food in their carts. That said, only you know what you or your family eat and drink the most, and which fruits or vegetables you particularly love for their flavor. Do you believe the benefits are worth a few extra cents? Or worth even more for organic items that are less available or more difficult to grow? And, only you know if you’re willing to compromise a bit on choice for a better price by buying whichever organic items are on sale.

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Is organic food healthier?

There is growing research that indicate greater amounts of certain nutrients in organic crops compared to conventional crops. If you’re concerned about pesticides, the application of potentially harmful, long-lasting pesticides and fertilizers are not allowed in organic agriculture. The EPA considers 60% of all herbicides, 90% of all fungicides, and 30% of all insecticides as potentially cancer-causing.

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Is organic food better for you?

See: Is organic food healhiter?

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How is organic better for the environment?

Organic farming, by definition, does not use environmentally harmful chemicals that may contaminate rain and groundwater. Organic farming also replenishes and maintains healthy, fertile topsoil with rich biological matter, which limits erosion and impact on waterways. Additionally, unique types of crops and livestock are more likely to be raised organically, which helps to keep the gene pool for food products diversified and thus help avoid extinction due to species-specific issues.

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What are the standards that define organic"?

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What are the organic standards for meat, eggs and dairy?

Organic livestock standards prohibit the use of antibiotics and the use of synthetic growth hormones such as rBGH. Additionally, all animals must be raised in living conditions appropriate for their species. The animals are fed only organic feed, and the processing for all meat, eggs and dairy products must meet organic standards as well.

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What about organic seafood?

In our U.S. stores we have chosen not to sell “organic” farmed fish until the United States establishes organic standards for aquaculture and there is a “USDA Organic” label available for farmed fish. This is our way of maintaining the integrity of the organic label. We do, however, have some of the strongest standards for farm-raised seafood in the industry.

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Are there standards for organic body care?

There are no mandatory government standards for using the "organic" label on body-care products, so we created standards of our own to ensure that you know what you’re getting when you see “organic” on body care products in our stores.

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What is the difference between "organic" and "natural"?

Unlike products that are labeled “organic,” products labeled “natural” require no certification. “Natural" is used in a variety of contexts and does not necessarily relate to health, growing methods, or animal welfare. We are committed to transparency when it comes to specific product traits so that you can know more about what’s in your food, so we encourage you to read the ingredients on the label if you have any questions about the contents of a particular product.

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Do organic farmers ever use pesticides?

Organic farmers' primary strategy is "prevention." By building healthy soils, healthy plants are better able to resist disease and insects. When pest populations get out of balance, growers will try various options such as insect predators, mating disruption, traps and barriers. If these fail, the certifier may grant permission to apply botanical or other non-persistent pesticides from the USDA National List of Approved Substances under restricted conditions. Botanicals are derived from plants and are broken down quickly by oxygen and sunlight.

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Do organic foods taste better?

We think so, and many chefs and food lovers agree. Basically, well-balanced soils grow strong, healthy plants that taste great. In addition, research is indicating that increased levels of phytochemicals produced by organic plants to fight pests are also responsible for aromas and flavors.

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Do organic foods generally cost more than conventional foods?

Well, yes, many organic products do cost more. The good news is that the price of organic foods is increasingly competitive as supply continues to rise. The most available organic products may cost just a few cents more than their conventional counterparts. Prices for organic products reflect many of the same costs as non-organic items in terms of growing, harvesting, transportation and storage, but organic products must meet stricter regulations governing all of these steps. The process is often more labor-intensive and requires more detailed management. Organic farmers have the added cost of what it takes to get organic certification, and government programs do not subsidize organic farming to the extent they subsidize much conventional farming.

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Is everything at Whole Foods Market organic?

Organic, no. However, you can count on our Quality Standards for the products we offer, organic or not. For example, all foods and beverages carried in our stores must not include any hydrogenated fats or artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners or preservatives. And we have industry-leading standards for meat, seafood, fresh produce, personal care and cleaning products. We offer a wide array of choices in our stores, and are committed to featuring organics whenever possible while supporting and encouraging more organic production every day.

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Are all local products organic?

Nope. Some are and some are not. Just as on any product, look for the organic label to indicate organic certification.

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Are organic products non-GMO?

Yes, indeed. Organic standards prohibit GMOs. So, simply by choosing organic, you are also choosing non-GMO.

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Are Biodynamic products organic?

No, though there are some similarities. Like organic farmers, Biodynamic farmers must find alternatives to synthetic chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

See also: What is Biodynamic Agriculture

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Where can I find more information about organics?

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