Going Holistic - It sounds good, but what does it really mean?

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Organic . . . GMO . . . All-Natural . . . Free Range. . . No Preservatives . . . Toxin-Free  

These terms may seem like marketing buzzwords, smattering the labels on everything from pet food to toys, health treatments and more, but in fact their purpose is to help consumers know what is actually in the products they buy.  But what, exactly, are we looking for?

Everyone wants what’s best for their pets, and when asked to choose a food with no added fillers and pure ingredients over a product that makes no such claim, most will want the more natural choice.  But what do these words really mean, and how does one make the best choices for their pets?

Starting now, Spot will explore how pet guardians can make more natural choices with regard to nutrition and health aids, household cleaning products, gardening and lawn care supplies, and more.  We’ll also take a look at alternative medical therapies for pets. 

While the amount of products and information on holistic products and treatments is endless, we’ll do our best to present the most up-to-date information to help you make informed choices for your baby’s (and the entire family’s) well-being.

This month we start with that buzziest of buzz words:  organic.  It’s bandied about everywhere, on everything from apples to toothpaste.  In fact, browsing the aisles at the market reveals offerings of “organic” versions of every conceivable product.  What does the term “organic” actually mean? And how does one distinguish a product labeled “organic” from one marked “100 percent organic” or “made with organic ingredients?”  Is there a difference?

Technically, yes there is.

According to Oregon Tilth, a nonprofit research organization that provides organic certifications, food product labeled as organic follows a farming system that “mimics natural ecosystems and maintains and replenishes the fertility and nutrients of the soil” and follows protocols designed to “promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity.”

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Following this definition, products certified organic come from farms that do not use synthetic or chemical insecticides, pesticides, herbicides or other toxins that leach nutrients from the soil or contaminate the water table.  This practice not only benefits those who consume foods grown in this manner, but also future generations of farmers who rely on healthy, viable soil to maintain their livelihoods. 

As to the labeling distinction, one that reads “100 percent organic” means that all ingredients within that product have been certified organic according to the standards outlined above.  Products labeled “organic” must contain no less than 95 percent organic ingredients.  Companies that claim a product is “made with organic ingredients” must prove that at least 70 percent of the ingredients in that product are in fact organic.

A product labeled “natural” is not necessarily organic, though it may include some organic ingredients.  The same goes for the term “free-range.”  Just because a pet food claims to include “free-range” chicken or beef, it doesn’t mean the source animals were fed an organic diet.  Free-range means only that the source animals were provided outdoor access.

Spending a moment to check out the ingredients on the labels of food and other items is the best way to discern whether or not a product truly is what it claims to be.

For those concerned with the welfare of farm animals raised for meat, an organic label signifies that livestock animals are fed an organic diet free of animal wastes.  Organic practices also encourage the humane treatment of animals.

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The Organic Trade Association lists several practices that are prohibited in the raising of organic livestock, including the use of genetic engineering, sewage sludge on fields, the use of irradiation, antibiotics, synthetic growth hormones and pesticides.  Animals raised organically must also have access to the outdoors and pastureland.  All of these terms mark a vast difference from conventionally raised livestock where few, if any, of these restrictions apply.

When we purchase organic products, we support sustainable and humane practices.  But, as many of us know, this can come at a very real cost at checkout, which in today’s economy can make it difficult to take the organic leap.  The good news is that as consumers we get to make the best decisions we can, and that we can make an impact without jumping off the highest cliff.

As many of us have witnessed over the last decade, as consumers have demanded higher standards, organic products have become increasingly available and affordable.  The same can be said for pet products that are organic or free of chemicals, preservatives or fillers.  These products were virtually non-existent on supermarket shelves 10 years ago, but today there are entire stores devoted to better product choices for critters.  Demand, over time, brought this about. 

As we come to better understand the relationship between our consumer dollar and the environment, the local economy, and our individual family’s health and well-being, many of us — particularly those of us in the ‘green’ Pacific Northwest — will get better at choosing products that support the local and global shift to a more sustainable ideal.

We’ll continue to explore this subject in coming issues, bringing voices of respected experts into the conversation.  Your voice is important, too — please let us know about changes you’ve made in providing your pet with more natural choices in nutrition, health or any other aspect of his or her care and wellbeing. 


Oregon Tilth


Organic Trade Association: Comparison of Organic and Conventional Livestock


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Nikki Jardin is a Portland-based freelance writer who loves to write about people dedicated to making the world a better place for all beings. When she’s not writing, she’s either exploring the great outdoors, traveling, or volunteering with Fences For Fido, a local nonprofit dedicated to giving dogs freedom from a previously chained life.