Bring it Home: Real questions and real answers from Illinois farmers.

Organic and Conventional – there’s a lot of common ground.

There’s a lot of common ground between these two farming methods, and there’s a place for both. And for a farmer, it’s not about choosing the one style that’s best, because one isn’t inherently better. It’s about choosing what works best for the farm while still producing safe, healthy food. And just like different factors might impact how you select groceries, farmers look at geography, weather, soil type, end market, type of crop, labor and equipment – all variables that make a farm uniquely different from the next one.

Organic definition: Organic farming is overseen by a USDA National Organic Program-authorized certifying agent, following USDA organic regulation. Organic farming methods use only substances from an approved USDA list called The National List and organic food is produced without excluded methods such as genetic engineering.

Organic does not always mean:

  • Pesticide-free
  • Untreated seeds
  • Only natural substances
  • Herbicide-free

Conventional definition: Conventional farming is the use of seeds that have been genetically altered using a variety of traditional breeding methods, excluding biotechnology, and are not certified as organic. Conventional crops may be mixed with other crops, including genetically engineered, or they may be grown to meet a requirement set forth by an end market, such as a specific chemical or nutritional requirement.

GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms)

GMOs are organisms (plants, animals or microorganisms) that the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination. GMOs are used in conventional farming methods.

In the U.S., only 10 foods are commercially grown from GMO seeds. So, if you see “Non-GMO” on a food label and that product doesn’t contain one of these items in any way, that label is misleading. Many GMO crops are used in processed ingredients such as sugar or cornstarch in food products in your local grocery store. Only some varieties of papaya, potatoes, squash, sweet corn and apples may be available in the produce aisle.

  1. Apples (food): non-browning trait
  2. Potato (food): reduced bruising & black spots, non-browning, blight resistance
  3. Corn (field and sweet)
    1. Field Corn (animal feed, ethanol, corn syrup, corn oil, starch, cereal, alcohol, industrial purposes): insect resistance, herbicide tolerance, drought tolerance
    2. Sweet Corn (food): insect resistance, herbicide tolerance
  1. Canola (cooking oil, animal feed): Herbicide tolerance
  2. Alfalfa (animal feed): Herbicide tolerance
  3. Soybean (animal feed, aquaculture, soybean oil, fatty acid, biodiesel fuel, soymilk, soy sauce, tofu, adhesives, printing ink, industrial uses): Insect resistance, herbicide tolerance
  4. Rainbow papaya (table fruit): Disease resistance
  5. Cotton (fiber, animal feed, cottonseed oil): Insect resistance, herbicide tolerance
  6. Sugar beet (sugar, animal feed): Herbicide tolerance
  7. Summer squash (food): Disease resistance

All of these crops can also be grown from Non-GMO seeds. In the U.S., farmers decide whether to grow GMO or Non-GMO. It is important to note none of the crops we grow today were created by nature alone. Over time, people have altered all of our crops through selection and plant breeding for taste, yield, disease resistance or other desirable traits.

In the end, there is no rule against buying conventional one day and organic the next. Whether you’re buying food for your family at a small farm stand, the local farmers market, Jewel, Trader Joe’s, Target or Costco – know there’s a farmer at the other end who made choices, too. There’s no wrong answer!

For more information on Organic and Conventional farming practices, click here.

Animal Welfare

You’ve probably seen the label claim “responsibly raised” – but what does it mean? To farmers, it’s an uncompromising commitment they take on every day. And, at the core of it all, it’s every farmer’s responsibility to raise safe, healthy food for your table – label or not.

People involved at every level of farming are encouraged to use best farming practices in caring for animals and managing their farms. Farmers recognize the importance of education and training programs to advance better methods for the industry and better for the animals, the environment and consumers. Farmers are dedicated to continuously improving farm practices to produce the best pork in the world. That is the story of responsible pig farming.

And, it’s not just about housing. Farmer’s work very closely with veterinarians and nutritionists throughout each stage of their animals’ lives. Just like people, animals get sick from time to time. Veterinarians work alongside farmers to decide the best course of action to get them healthy again.

If you have more questions about how animals are raised, click here.

Making sense of food labels

From the farm to the grocery store, we all have choices!

We all want to purchase the safest and most nutritious food for our families. Packaging labels, with their many marketing claims, have left some consumers overwhelmed and confused. How can you make the best choice?

The nutrition label on the back provides more information than the labeling claims on the front. Watch for simple ingredients and other contents that fall within your family’s food guidelines.

Below, we break down some common food label claims.

Download our handout here.

ORGANIC: a method of farming where food is raised without synthetic pesticides or chemical fertilizers, but does allow inputs of plant or animal origin.

CONVENTIONAL: a method of farming where using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides is allowed.

BEST IF USED BY: date recommended for best flavor or quality; not a food safety indicator.

CAGE-FREE: birds who don’t live in a cage, but may not have access to the outdoors.

CONVENTIONALLY GROWN: a method of farming where using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides is allowed.

FARM-RAISED: fish raised in tanks, irrigation ditches, and ponds.

FREE-RANGE: chickens who spend at least part of their time outdoors, but without a unifying standard for the label. Designation has no relevance to a chicken’s diet.

GRASS-FED: refers to meat from cattle that eat mainly grass throughout their life.

GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISM (GMO): covers any living form whose genetic material has been altered through genetic engineering. In the food world, the term applies mostly to crops that have been grown with the objective of adding or eliminating certain characteristics.

LOCALLY GROWN: food grown on nearby farms – no standardized distinction in the actual distance.

NATURAL: existing in or caused by nature.

NUTRITION FACTS: panel found on food packages and containing a variety of information about the nutritional value of the food item.

ORGANIC: a method of farming where food is raised without synthetic pesticides or chemical fertilizers, but does allow inputs of plant or animal origin.

SELL BY DATE: tells the store how long to display the product for sale.

USE BY DATE: the last manufacturer-recommended date to use the product while at peak quality.

WILD-CAUGHT: fish that come from seas, rivers and other natural bodies of water.

For more information on Label Lingo, talk to a farmer.

Brought to you by the Central Illinois Regional Advertising Group.