Organic vs Natural: What’s The Big Difference?

May 17, 2019

Organic and natural labels are everywhere. They can be found on items of all kinds, from all-natural food products to organic cleaning products. However, the real question is what is the difference between organic and natural products?

The short answer is there’s a huge difference between the two. This is a little known fact, so it is extremely important to educate yourself on this topic and know what the difference is between organic and natural products. Understanding what these labels mean will help protect you from potentially dangerous chemicals that can be found in the products that we use everyday.

What is an Organic Product?

An organic product is one whose ingredients are chosen very carefully, to ensure the product is safe for you and your use. Organic products are typically made from something living, like a plant, vegetables, or fruit. Throughout every stage of production, it is ensured that an organic product is being produced safely. The ingredients within an organic product will never include artificial additives or any unsafe chemicals. Throughout its production process, an organic product was likely produced using safe and sustainable farming practices and renewable energy.

Essentially, organic products are those that are best for both you and the environment. Whether you are eating organic products or cleaning with organic cleaner, you can be rest assured that what you’re consuming is safe.

Are Organic Products Regulated?

Yes! Organic is the most heavily regulated label created by the USDA. The label “organic” is strictly defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Organic products have government-backed assurance that they are without toxic chemicals, antibiotics, and synthetic growth hormones. This means that when you see a product with the organic label, you can be certain that it is completely free of any potentially harmful ingredients.

The USDA takes great precautions, through numerous regulations, to make sure that products that claim to be organic actually are organic. It is guaranteed that an organic product does not use any toxic pesticides, toxic synthetic herbicides, or chemical NPK fertilizers throughout its production process.

Also, an organic product is never produced using any antibiotics or growth hormones. In order to ensure that these rules are followed, the USDA completes regular rigorous certification inspections for producers of all kinds. This can give you, as the consumer, full confidence that an organic product is completely safe.

The National Organic Program (NOP) develops rules and regulations for the production, handling, labeling, and enforcement of all USDA organic products. The NOP’s process is called rulemaking, and involves input from the National Organic Standards Committee, a fifteen person panel, and the public. As you can clearly see, lots of thought and effort goes into what exactly makes a product organic.

Hopefully this gives you reassurance that organic products are extremely safe and well-regulated. If you’d like to read more about what exactly makes a product organic, the NOP has a handbook which can be found here.

What is a Natural Product?

In a perfect world, a natural product can be defined as one with minimal processing and no artificial additives. However, “natural” can mean a wide variety of things, depending on the industry, location, and producer. When it comes to a product with a natural label, there are no guarantees as to what that label means.

Theoretically, a natural product may contain numerous unnatural ingredients and additives. There are not any specific qualifications for a product to be considered natural, so ingredient labels speak volumes for a natural product.

Although for the most part, natural products are typically held to higher standards than regular products, despite the lack of regulations on the term “natural”. When eating a natural product or using an all natural cleaner, be sure to check the ingredients listing to confirm the safety of the product.

Are Natural Products Regulated?

No, there are absolutely no regulations in place for a product to be considered natural. In the United States, neither the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the USDA have any rules or regulations in place for products labeled “natural.” This lack of regulation makes it extremely difficult to determine if a product labeled “natural” is actually natural. Natural products could have dangerous ingredients harmful to one’s health, and they could still be labeled natural due to this lack of regulation.

For that reason, the only way to ensure if a natural product is safe and actually natural is to read the ingredient label. As a consumer, you must educate yourself on the ingredients of natural products to see if they are truly natural and safe for your use.

So, What’s the Big Difference?

The major difference between organic and natural products is that organic products are heavily regulated, while natural products are not regulated at all. As a general rule, organic products are safer than natural products, because they are so strictly regulated by the USDA. This regulation can give you full confidence that an organic product was produced safely and does not contain any ingredients or additives that may be harmful. However, you cannot have this confidence in a product that merely claims to be natural.

However, a product labeled organic isn’t necessarily better than a product labeled natural. Some local products or products produced by smaller companies may not have the organic label because of fees or the size of their operation. This means that their products may meet every qualification to be considered organic, but simply do not hold the official label. This is why it is up to you as the consumer to check the ingredient label when buying natural products.

Natural products can be just as safe as an organic product, but the only way to know for sure is to educate yourself on the product’s ingredients and history.

Why are Organic and Natural Products Important?

Understanding the definitions of organic and natural help you to understand whether or not the products you consume or use include ingredients you are comfortable with. Now that you understand the difference, you might be asking yourself why all of this matters. While organic products have regulations backing their production and both natural and organic products have ingredients you can be comfortable with, these product types have many other benefits. Because of the way truly natural and organic products are produced, they have many environmental benefits. In addition, natural and organic products are believed to have many health benefits.

Environmental Effects

Some of the most prominent environmental effects come from the farming practices that are used during the development of a product. When a product is produced using traditional modern farming practices, this likely includes some actions that are harmful to the environment. These practices include things such as the use of genetically modified seeds, pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals to help the farming process along.

The use of these practices, especially pesticides and other chemicals, can have devastating effects on the environment. Pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals can get into runoff water, which eventually will end up infiltrating the oceans. This means that the production of inorganic and unnatural products directly leads to pollution of the oceans. By purchasing products that are organic or natural, you are helping to reduce the use of farming practices such as these that are devastating for the environment.

When cleaning your house or office space, make sure you’re using an organic cleaner, or an eco friendly cleaner. This will ensure that no chemicals will spread through local water supply and disrupt local wildlife. All natural cleaners can be great, but again, make sure to check the ingredients to be certain you’re using products with all natural sources.

In addition, products made with pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals can be harmful to the insect populations in the environment. It has been scientifically proven that the use of pesticides can have very harmful effects on the bee population. Bees are already an endangered species and are vital to the pollination process, which is necessary for the production of so many things we use every day. For this reason, in order to protect the environment and its inhabitants, it’s best to use products that are organic or natural and are not produced using pesticides or other chemicals.

Health Effects

Organic and natural products are also believed to have many positive health effects. As a general rule, organic and truly natural products are believed to be healthier than traditionally produced products. Although this fact has not been scientifically proven, it is fairly safe to conclude that products produced without chemicals and artificial additives are likely healthier than products with those ingredients. Over time, not consuming these chemicals and additives will be the best thing for your body.

When using products throughout your everyday life, it is important to consider the ingredients you are coming into contact with. Our skin is porous, meaning that anything that comes into contact with your skin is absorbed into the bloodstream and lymphatic system. If a product is not organic or natural and comes into contact with your skin, you are potentially allowing dangerous chemicals to be absorbed into your bloodstream. In the long term, not risking exposure to these chemicals and additives will likely hold many health benefits as well. For this reason, it is much safer to use organic or natural products that do not risk your exposure to dangerous ingredients.

This is especially important when cleaning your home. Often times the greatest health exposure comes from the chemicals of inorganic and non-natural cleaners that have adverse side-effects on biological life. Find a green cleaning product that is non-toxic and won’t cause you any ill harm.

What Should You Do Next?

Now that you know the difference between organic and natural products, what can you do to ensure that you aren’t buying products whose labels are making false promises? Most importantly, you should always remember that natural products are not regulated and take special precautions when buying items that claim to be natural. You should search for any artificial ingredients or excessive processing, in order to see if a natural product is truly natural and safe. However, it is also important to remember that a natural product may be just as safe as an organic product.

As a consumer, it is essential that you educate yourself to ensure that you are comfortable with the ingredients found in the products you use and consume every day. It is important to read beyond the organic or natural label, so that you truly understand the ingredients and history of the products you and your family use every day.