Organic foods are grown and processed in accordance with federal guidelines that address soil quality, animal husbandry practices, pest and weed control, and the use of additives. Unless you're eating a completely raw, organic diet, almost all foods are chemically processed or treated. Many foods contain artificial ingredients and preservatives, while fruits and vegetables contain pesticides and fewer nutrients than their organic counterparts. Chemicals such as fungicides, herbicides and synthetic insecticides are widely used in conventional agriculture and residues remain in (and inside) the food we eat.
Organic foods tend to be fresher because they don't contain preservatives that make them last longer. Organic products are sometimes (but not always) produced on smaller farms closer to where they are sold. Organic farming tends to be better for the environment as it can reduce pollution, conserve water, reduce soil erosion, increase soil fertility and use less energy. Farming without synthetic pesticides is also better for nearby birds and animals, as well as for people who live near farms.
Organic junk food is still “junk” in the sense that it contains a lot of calories with minimal nutritional value, but it is fundamentally different from conventional processed foods in that it doesn't contain many harmful ingredients. Organic foods tend to have more beneficial nutrients, such as antioxidants, than their conventionally grown counterparts, and people with allergies to foods, chemicals, or preservatives may see their symptoms decrease or disappear when they only eat organic foods. In addition to containing fewer pesticides, any food labeled as organic, even processed foods, such as boxed cookies and mac and cheese, contains fewer preservatives, thickeners, artificial colors and flavors, artificial sweeteners and refined flours than their non-organic counterparts. The organic industry illustrates the positive economic impact of agriculture and organic products, and the importance of consumer choice in the market.
Another benefit of buying organic processed foods is that many of the companies that sell them are also committed to reducing their environmental footprint through fewer packaging, more efficient production processes and conservation efforts. Organic livestock that are raised for meat, eggs and dairy products must be raised in living conditions that adapt to their natural behaviors (such as the ability to graze on pasture) and fed with organic feed and fodder. Making junk food sound healthy is a common marketing strategy in the food industry, but organic baked goods, desserts and snacks are often high in sugar, salt, fat or calories. Some local small farmers use organic methods but may not be able to afford to obtain organic certification.
The Department of Agriculture (USDA) has established an organic certification program that requires all organic foods to meet strict government standards. Some data show the potential health benefits of organic foods compared to foods grown using the usual (conventional) process. If you set some priorities it's possible to buy organic food and stay within your food budget. A whole sweet potato will always beat French fries but if you opt for organic processed foods you can be sure they contain fewer harmful ingredients than their non-organic counterparts.