Is our food supply safe in the U.S.?

Yes. American farmers and ranchers are the starting point in our nation's food chain, which produces the safest food supply in the world. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are home to the primary federal food safety agencies. The Department of Health and Human Services is home to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is housed at USDA. FSIS is "responsible for ensuring that the nation's commercial supply of meat, poultry and egg products is safe, wholesome and correctly labeled and packaged." The FDA focuses on both fresh and processed food products. In addition to the federal agencies, many states have their food safety agencies and laws that govern the production of safe and wholesome foods within their respective states. The CDC's role is to prevent "illness, disability and death due to domestic and imported food borne diseases." The CDC typically becomes involved when a food safety concern or outbreak has arisen.1

Who is responsible for food safety?

Farmers and ranchers take food safety seriously. The food they raise is subject to extensive food safety regulations and inspections, and technology allows food to be traced back to the farm that produced it. Farmers and ranchers have a vested interest in food safety--the food they produce is not only for consumers, it is for their family. The incidence of food borne illness has dropped dramatically in the last 100 years. While food safety starts on the farm, it doesn't end there. The companies that process agricultural commodities into food take care to ensure their products are safe. Consumers do their part at home by cooking foods to proper temperatures, using separate cutting boards for uncooked meat and ready-to-eat foods, storing leftover food in shallow containers, and refrigerating food within two hours.2

Is natural and organic the same thing?

Natural and organic are not interchangeable terms. According to the Food Marketing Institute, "the term natural applies broadly to foods that are minimally processed and free of synthetic preservatives."

USDA certified organic foods are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing, among many factors, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible.

Produce can be called organic if it’s certified to have grown on soil that had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest. Prohibited substances include most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

As for organic meat, regulations require that animals are raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors (like the ability to graze on pasture), fed 100% organic feed and forage, and not administered antibiotics or hormones.

Regulations prohibit organically processed foods from containing artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors and require that their ingredients are organic, with some minor exceptions. For example, processed organic foods may contain some approved non-agricultural ingredients, like enzymes in yogurt, pectin in fruit jams, or baking soda in baked goods.3

While the term "natural" is only vaguely defined by the company producing the product, the term "organic" is clearly defined and subject to strict federal regulations regarding its use.4

Is buying organic food better for the environment than buying food produced conventionally?

Ultimately, environmental sustainability comes down to the farmer, whether they produce goods organically or conventionally. Good farmers manage erosion, water use, control runoff and work to replenish the nutrients of the soil. There are many factors that affect environmental impact--two are land use and transportation. A study from McGill's University in Canada and the University of Minnesota found that, on the whole, organic production produces 25% less food on the same land as conventional production. This is an average, however, and some organically produced crops are comparable to productivity to conventionally produced crops. Transporting products also impacts the environment. All goods must be transported from the farm to a retailer, and often many stops in between. An organic or conventional farmer across the country may have a very sustainable farm, but transporting their goods to you can have an impact on the environment.5