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USDA Certified Organic Foods

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched its National Organic Program (NOP) in 1990 to provide guidelines for food producers who grow and raise organic certified products (you can tell who's made the cut by looking for the words "USDA Certified Organic" on the label of the food you buy). Under these guidelines, farmers can't use most synthetic pesticides or many kinds of fertilizers that can prove harmful to people and the environment, like sewage sludge. To produce certified organic goods, they also can't genetically modify or irradiate their products. A USDA "100 percent organic" seal means all of the ingredients in the product you're buying were produced under NOP guidelines. A USDA "organic" seal means that 95 percent or more of the ingredients are organic by USDA standards.

It can be hard to justify paying extra to help the Earth, even during good economic times (let alone when grocery store prices are sky high). Still, you can probably afford to buy at least one or two food items from the market that are more environmentally friendly. Just paying attention to the labels of the products you buy can lead you in the right direction. Logos that credit an item as being organic tell you that you're buying a product that helps sustain the planet.

Organic foods are better for the environment because their production doesn't demand the use of cheap but harmful chemicals. Synthetic pesticides and fertilizers have long shelf lives and can be reintroduced into the environment after their application. For example, excess fertilizer can be carried as runoff to watersheds when it rains, affecting the water quality in surrounding areas.