Organic Foods



The term “organic” is used to refer to plant crops grown without chemical pesticides or fertilizers and genetic modifications. It also refers to meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products raised/produced without antibiotics or growth hormones and fed organic grain and other feed.

Can you trust what it says on the packaging?

You may be wondering exactly what all the different terms on food packages mean. What’s the difference between “natural,” “organic,” “healthy,” and all the other phrases you see?

The terms “natural” and “organic” do not mean the same thing. “Natural” is overused and has very little meaning. Similarly, “free-range” doesn’t have an official industry definition. Many people believe it means that the chickens or cows or turkeys are not kept in cages and given the run of the farm. But this isn’t always the case. Until the word is officially defined, it can be put on any package without anyone being responsible for it. If you’re very concerned about this issue, look into buying your meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products from a local farmer whose production methods you know.


In 2002, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) created a set of national standards that “organic” food must meet, whether it is grown or produced in the United States or imported from other countries. Foods produced using these standards are allowed to put this symbol on their packaging. Other foods may claim to be organic because they are produced without chemical pesticides or growth hormones. But only foods that conform to the USDA standards may use the official organic symbol.

Improving your nutrition is something you can do to help yourself become as healthy as possible. While no studies show a direct connection between pesticide exposure and an increased risk of breast cancer, common sense tells you that pesticides and other chemicals are probably not good for you. Buying organic foods is one thing you can do to keep your exposure to pesticides, antibiotics, and growth hormones as low as possible. More research is needed to determine whether organic foods are more nutritious or healthier for women with breast cancer compared to foods produced by other farming/production methods.

Visit the Breast Cancer Risk Factors: Exposure to Chemicals in Food page for more information on any links between chemicals in food and breast cancer risk.

Expert Quote

“Many people are under the false assumption that organic vegetables are much higher in vitamins. Although some organic vegetables may have slightly more vitamin C, for example, it is insignificant relative to your overall intake of vitamin C or your overall health. Besides, organic vegetables can be very expensive and do spoil more rapidly. The key issue is to eat your vegetables.”

— Cyndi Thomson, Ph.D., RD