Food labeling 101: GMO, organic, and other common grocery labels decoded

A quick, easy guide to nine commonly seen (and misunderstood) food labels, from 'GMO' to 'grass-fed.'

2. Organic

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    Various kinds of organic tomatoes produced by Nesenkeag Farm in Litchfield, N.H. Organic foods are monitored and labeled by the USDA's National Organic Program.
    Mary Knox Merrill /Staff/File
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Definition: Organic food is farmed the old-fashioned way, without synthetic pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Organic farmers have to be certified by the federal government and face strict regulations. In the United States, such farmers are regulated and certified by the National Organic Program, run by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). 

What it means for you: Higher prices, for one. Organic foods are typically 10 to 40 percent more expensive than their conventionally grown counterparts. Proponents argue that you’re paying for better taste and peace of mind, knowing that your food is free of potentially harmful synthetic chemicals. But those claims are subject to debate. Studies have shown that organically grown fruits and vegetables have far lower rates of pesticide residue than conventional ones, but the actual health impact remains murky.

The question has also been raised over whether organic farming methods are linked to a higher incidence of food-borne illnesses like E. coli, but the evidence there is also in dispute.

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