USDA's organic certification program requires all organic foods to meet strict government standards, including how such foods are grown, handled and processed.
Any farmer or food manufacturer who labels and sells a product as organic must be USDA-certified. Goods that are completely organic --such as fruits, vegetables, eggs or other single-ingredient foods are labeled 100 percent organic complete with a USDA seal.
The documentary Food Inc seems to imply that organic foods are more wholesome. But many some health claims made by the burgeoning industry have not been proven.
Joel Salatin, Virginia Farmer: "We're willing to subsidize the food system to create the "mystique" of cheap food, when actually it's very expensive food when you add up the environmental costs societal costs, health costs. The industrial food is not honest food. It's not priced honestly. It's not produced honestly. It's not processed honestly. There's nothing honest about that food."
Food, Inc. sharply criticized the conventional food industry, and seemed to paint organic foods in a more- favorable light.
But are organic foods more nutritious than their conventionally produced counterparts?
A 2008 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research study, found no conclusive evidence that organic foods are more nutritious than conventionally grown food. And USDA — even though it certifies organic food — does not claim the products are safer or healthier.
According to the study, organic foods meet the same quality and safety standards as conventional foods. Conventional growers often use fungicides and pesticides to protect their crops from molds, insects and diseases, but traces of the chemicals can remain on the crops. And some people buy organic food hoping to minimize their exposure to these residues.
In its first survey of organic farmers two years ago, USDA discovered the nation's 14,540 producers enjoyed sales of more than $24.6 billion. And while prices paid to organic farmers have grown 14 to 21 percent over the past decade, they remain less than one percent of total agricultural sales.
Meanwhile, the United Nations projects world population will reach more than 9 billion by mid-century, requiring a 100-percent increase in global food production from virtually the same amount of land as today. But Missouri farmer and writer Blake Hurst claims it would be impossible to even feed today's global population if the world relied solely on organic farming methods.
Blake Hurst, Missouri: "I don't think it's realistic to feed six billion people with no technology. We can't do it. We have to have access to commercial fertilizer, pesticides, and we need to have access to genetically modified seeds."