Key Differences Between Local and Organic Foods

Local vs Organic Food

Key Differences between Local and Organic Foods

Although thought of in a similar light, local and organic foods are not defined the same. In this blog we will discuss the main differences between these two food labels. Fruits, vegetables, meats, and other products in the U.S. are classified as “organic” according to rules and laws set by the US Department of Agriculture. Understanding the steps behind receiving an organic label from the USDA, can help us better understand what makes organic foods special.

What is Organic Food?

The labeling term “organic” means that the agricultural product was made following authorized processes.

  • Organic crops are produced using organic farming methods. These avoid using synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and certain additives or processing methods.
  • Organic certification ensures that the food has been produced according to strict organic standards set by regulatory bodies.
  • Organic farming practices emphasize sustainability, soil health, biodiversity, and animal welfare.
  • Organic foods are commonly found in supermarkets, health food stores, and other grocery stores. They will show an organic label with their certification.

The USDA’s organic standards outline the specific requirements needed before items can bear the USDA organic label. These standards are broken down between crops, livestock and poultry, and handling and labeling of items. Below we touch on the basics.

Crop Standards

  • Land must be free from prohibited substances for at least 3 years.
  • Operations must use organic seeds and other planting stock.
  • Genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, and sewage sludge is prohibited.
  • Soil fertility and crop nutrients are controlled through tillage and cultivation techniques, crop rotations, and cover crops. Also, with only permitted synthetic materials.

Livestock and Poultry Standards

  • Animals must be raised in living conditions considered normal for the species.
  • Organic meat cannot be injected with antibiotics or hormones.
  • Animals should be fed food that is 100% organic.
  • All organic livestock and poultry must have access to the outdoors year-round.

Understanding labeling helps consumers make better choices. Learn more about organic labeling thanks to the Agricultural Marketing Service Department. To learn more in-depth on the rules and regulations for organic crops, check out the USDA’s organic regulations.

What is Local Food?

Defining what is “local” can be harder than defining what is “organic.” There is no single definition of what locally grown foods are. However, there are widely accepted ideas for how local foods should be determined. The American Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 states: (I)              the locality or region in which the final product is marketed, so that the total distance that the product is transported is less than 400 miles from the origin of the product; or (II)             the State in which the product is produced. Although laws, legislation, regulations, and program documents can all include state definitions of “local,” very few of these laws specifically define “local” food. Most states use the term “local” (or synonyms like “native”) in their food purchasing and marketing regulations to denote that the food was grown within the state. Below are the general guidelines for what is considered “local foods.”

  • Local foods are produced and sourced within a limited geographic region, usually within a specific radius. A commonly accepted distance is around 100 to 200 miles.
  • They are often sold directly to consumers through farmers' markets, farm stands, or community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs. Visit the USDA local food portal for help in finding local farms and markets near you.
  • The primary focus of local foods is on reducing the distance between the producer and the consumer. This promotes community connections and supporting local economies.
  • Local foods may or may not be grown using organic practices. They could include conventionally grown or even genetically modified crops.


Are the terms Organic and Natural interchangeable?

As was already said, synthetic chemicals and growth hormones are not used during the growing or raising of organic produce. Foods that have not been chemically altered and don't contain hormones, antibiotics, or artificial tastes are generally considered to be natural foods. The FDA claims that it hasn't created a definition for the term's use, nevertheless. According to the FDA, a food is classified “natural” if it contains no artificial or synthetic ingredients. However, this policy was not intended to address food production methods, nor did it explicitly address food processing or manufacturing methods. Because of this, virtually any food, whether organic or not, can be labeled as “natural”. Thus, unless otherwise specified on the label, a product marketed as “natural” may not always be organic.


In summary, while local foods are sourced from nearby regions to support local communities, organic foods are produced using specific farming practices that prioritize environmental sustainability and exclude certain synthetic substances. They can overlap if local foods are also produced using organic farming methods. However, not all local foods are produced organically. In the end the best way to find organic products is to look for the USDA certified organic label.

Last updated on August 31st, 2023 at 12:36 pm

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