My 3 Cents: Organic Foods Vs. Natural Foods -- What Do the Labels Mean?

Last year, overall sales for the grocery industry were up a modest 1.8%, according to the Food Institute. Yet sales of organic items more than doubled that growth rate, up 4.4%. Clearly, we're shopping differently and grocery shopping may never be the same.

Trader Joe's and Whole Foods (WFMI) lean into the organic trend and many major grocery chains, including Safeway (SWY) and Kroger's (KR), have rolled out their own lines of natural and organic items. For consumers, though, deciphering the labels can be tricky.
  • Foods labeled "100% organic" have no synthetic ingredients and can legally use the USDA organic seal.
  • Foods labeled "organic" have a minimum of 95% organic ingredients and are also eligible to use seal.
  • Foods labeled "made with organic ingredients" must contain at least 70% organic ingredients. No seal.
(source: WebMD)

It gets even trickier. "Natural" and "organic" don't mean the same thing. The words "all natural" may be food marketing magic, but the FDA hasn't established a formal definition for the word "natural." It looks like they only object to the labeling if it's put on a food that has added colors, artificial flavors or synthetic substances.

My Take: Go "all natural" all the time, and when it comes to springing for organic items, start with what the nonprofit Environmental Working Group deems the "dirty dozen" -- 12 fruits and vegetables that, when grown by non-organic farmers, are most prone to heavy pesticide residue, among them apples, lettuce and strawberries.

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Advice for Recent College Grads

Prepare yourself for the "real world".

View Course »

Intro to Retirement

Get started early planning for your long term future.

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:


July 14 2011 at 5:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Regina; you know nothing about farming and food processing.

95% of all Natural products are grown with pesticides, herbicides, and synthetic fertilizers; which leads to air, soil and water pollution. Natural foods use thousands of processing chemicals not allowed by organics. Natural means the product did not start as a synthetic but is subject to synthetic processing. Natural means nothing in todays market which is why natural has been embraced by corporate food companies, specifically because there is no formal definition; while organics regulates food from soil to shelf.

As for the clean food list they don't take into account the workers in the field who are exposed to pesticides that don't show up well on lab test. I worked for Earth's Best Baby Food, the first organic baby food in the US, did thousands of pesticide lab test on produce. Some of the nastiest pesticides do not test well and other more innocuous pesticides glow on test like neon signs. It doesn't make the food safer if toxic chemicals don't jump-out on lab test. Natural foods are conventional chemically grown foods with a new marketing program.

By the way, 100% Organic does not mean no synthetics, the USDA created the 100% label, not the organic community, 100% can use municipal water which contains chemicals. Mistakes like this are often made by people who don't really read laws and regulations, they just need a topic to write about without bothering to become knowledgeable on the subject.

My take is to NOT to pay attention to a personal finance guru who knows nothing about the growing and processing of food.

July 14 2011 at 10:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to GeorgeK's comment

Hi George - I know this is random and a little creepy, but I am an MBA student doing a project on Earth's Best organic Baby food and have been trying desperately to get a hold of a company employee that can talk to me about product manufacturing. Is there anyway you would be willing to have a chat? I'm mainly looking to find out where their facilities are located, approximate size and list of products manufactured on location. If you have any of these answers or can point me to someone who does I would be infinitely grateful. Thanks!

October 17 2011 at 7:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Christian Louboutin Mary Janes Sale
Christian Louboutin Men Shoes
Cheap Christian Louboutin Men Shoes
Discount Christian Louboutin Men Shoes
Christian Louboutin Men Shoes Sale
Christian Louboutin Pumps
Cheap Christian Louboutin Pumps
Discount Christian Louboutin Pumps
Christian Louboutin Pumps Sale
Christian Louboutin Sandals
Cheap Christian Louboutin Sandals
Discount Christian Louboutin Sandals
Christian Louboutin Sandals Sale
Christian Louboutin Short Boots
Cheap Christian Louboutin Short Boots
Discount Christian Louboutin Short Boots
Christian Louboutin Short Boots Sale
Christian Louboutin Slingback
Cheap Christian Louboutin Slingback
Discount Christian Louboutin Slingback
Christian Louboutin Slingback Sale
Christian Louboutin Sneakers
Cheap Christian Louboutin Sneakers
Discount Christian Louboutin Sneakers
Christian Louboutin Sneakers Sale
Christian Louboutin Tall Boots
Cheap Christian Louboutin Tall Boots
Discount Christian Louboutin Tall Boots
Christian Louboutin Tall Boots Sale
Christian Louboutin Wedges

July 14 2011 at 4:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

For what it's worth - organic production represents less than 5% of U.S. Agriculture. I have a large home garden and grow mostly in an organic manner, but it does not make the produce any better. It does however releive some concerns I have about the extensive chemical applications used in regular commercial farming. Mind you, the USDA certifies that the pesticides and herbicides are all safe and they require a license to even purchase, but remember also that it took over 30 years before it became known that DDT caused some serious health issues. These are really personal issues and the concern factor based on how much, or how little ones knows. Since I have a master gardener certificate and put time in with the extension service I stay up with change. At the present time about 60% (and rising) per cent of all seed planted in the U.S. is pellitized - the coating is a pesticide and fungicide which tells me that the chance of chemicals being absorbed by the sprouting roots and pulled into yon plant(systemic) is pretty good. We ran into this scenario in the marine food chain where the plankton eat a pollutant, the little fish eat the plankton and the big fish eat the small ones - and humans got the concentrate.

July 13 2011 at 4:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I buy and make most of my buying decisions on price. If organic asparagus is cheaper than regular asparagus then I buy it. Where it is grown or comes from is second. I try to keep our USA farmer going verses those who could care less of us, working out of those countries origins. I believe most all this ragging about organic is purely marketing hype, which we can not seem to live without today. Sort of the same as those that say, “I drink bottled water(in Plastic Bottles especially) because it is better for me?”

July 13 2011 at 2:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bob Bennett

I grew up on a farm where natural, i.e. organic, farming using livestock manure was the norm in growing produce for the family table. After graduating from High School in 1951, I joined the Marine Corps and in 1953, was in South Korea. Being a farm boy, I was not all that surprised to observe that organic farming was also practiced there, but we were ordered not to eat any of their produce. The reason for this caution became very clear during a ride on a 6x6 on a steep road on what I believe was the South Gate into Seoul. I can almost still smell the stink of the long caravan of oxcarts hauling, "Honeypots," out of Seoul to supply farmers with the human waste collected to provide fertilizer for farmers. I never ate organic food while in Korea and still won't in the States.

July 13 2011 at 2:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

All we do know if that we pay more for anything marked organic including pet foot. Another way to gouge the consumer at the check out line!

July 13 2011 at 2:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply