The short answer is no, biodynamic isn't the same as organic. Biodynamic farming incorporates the use of manure and compost and avoids the use of artificial chemicals. One of the relatively unique traits of biodynamic farming is the view of animals, crops, and soil as one interconnected system.
While cage free is a considerable step-up from traditional corporate farming methods, it doesn't significantly improve the life of the poultry being raised. The birds are no longer packed into small cages, but they are still confined to barns packed wall to wall with livestock. Free range indicates that the birds are raised in an environment that allows them to freely move around both inside and out.
A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. GMOs are used to produce many genetically modified foods.
The Non-GMO Project is a nonprofit organization committed to preserving and building sources of non-GMO products, educating consumers and providing verified non-GMO choices. They believe:
- Everyone has a right to know what is in their food and deserves access to non-GMO choices.
- By voting with our dollars every time we shop, collectively we have the power to change the way our food is grown and made.
- Preserving and building the non-GMO supply chain is a critical step of transitioning toward a safe, healthy, food supply for future generations.
- The integrity of our diverse genetic inheritance is essential to human and environmental health and ecological harmony
- By encouraging a non-GMO seed supply, we are supporting the restoration of traditional seed breeding and the right of farmers to save and plant their own seeds and grow varieties of their choice.
- A verified non-GMO system supports organic agriculture by reducing contamination pressure and protecting the supply of non-GMO seed.
- Everyone deserves an informed choice about whether or not to consume genetically modified organisms.
The Non-GMO Project is governed by a Board of Directors. They also work with a collaborative network of technical and expert advisers from a broad and diverse range of backgrounds and sectors.
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 certified organic if its certified to have grown in 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.
When it comes to processed, multi-ingredient foods, the USDA organic standards specify additional considerations. 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.
EWG's Shopper's Guide ranks pesticide contamination on 48 popular fruits and vegetables based on analysis of more than 36000 samples taken by the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration.
To compare foods, EWG looked at six measures of pesticide contamination:
- Percent of samples tested with detectable pesticides
- Percent of samples with two or more detectable pesticides
- Average number of pesticides found on a single sample
- Average amount of pesticides found, measured in parts per million
- Maximum number of pesticides found on a single sample
- Total number of pesticides found on the commodity
EWG's Shopper's Guide aims to give consumers the confidence that by following EWG's advice, they can buy foods with fewer types of pesticides and lower overall concentrations of pesticide residues.
Fair Trade Certification is a third party certification process that sets standards for the way food is produced and how much a farmer/farming cooperative earns per pound sold. The criteria are:
- Fair prices for farmers and decent working and living conditions for workers
- Direct trade with farmers, bypassing middlemen
- Free association of workers and co-ops, with structures for democratic decision making
- Access to capital
- Sustainable agriculture practices including restricted use of agrochemicals
As defined by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) is an animal feeding operation (AFO) that confines animals for more than 45 days during a growing season, in an area that does not produce vegetation, and meets certain size thresholds. Basically 75% of the meat produced in the United States comes from CAFOs, and as you may have gleaned from the definition, they're terrible for the environment.
Grass fed beef and grain fed beef are two completely different foods. Grass fed beef isn't a luxury item, it's real meat. Factory meat has the wrong fatty acids, contains obesity causing hormones, and usually has mycotoxins (very nasty biotoxins formed by mold in cattle food and meat processing). Grass fed meat is in a league of its own. It's much leaner than it's conventional counterpart. It's also higher in key nutrients, including antioxidants, vitamins, and a beneficial fat called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) that's been tied to improved immunity and anti-inflammation benefits. Plus, grass-fed beef packs about 50% more omega-3 fatty acids than standard beef (although the amount is still far lower than the total omega-3's found in fatty fish like salmon). Grass fed beef is also less likely to contain "superbugs" (bacteria that have become resistant to three or more classes of antibiotics) so its considered superior from a food safety perspective.