The word organic has multiple meanings. To a chemist, an organic
compound contains carbon and hydrogen. Chemically, all food is therefore
organic. To a farmer or consumer, however, organic foods are produced
according to a defined set of standards.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) certifies crops as
organically grown if the farmer did not apply pesticides (with few
exceptions), petroleum-based fertilizers, or sewage sludge. Organically
raised cows, pigs, and chickens cannot receive growth hormones
or antibiotics, and they must have access to the outdoors and
eat organic food. In addition, no food labeled “organic” may be genetically
engineered or treated with ionizing radiation.
A natural food may or may not be organic. The term natural refers
to the way in which foods are processed, not how they are grown. Standards
for what constitutes a natural food are fuzzy. The USDA specifies
that meat and poultry labeled as natural cannot contain artificial ingredients
or added color, but no such standards exist for other foods.