This is a second guest post by Kelly Tooker, Master Gardener and environmental educator. There are lots of misconceptions about what organic actually means, and the USDA doesn’t seem to offer a tidy one page summary for the intelligent lay person. That’s where Kelly comes in. She breaks down what you’re getting when you buy organic — and what you’re not.
The National Organic Program
What is ORGANIC?
The term “organic” simply means that something is or was once living.
The term “Organic” is used in marketing and manufacturing to describe the way in which agricultural products are produced, processed and certified to meet consistent national standards. These standards are regulated under the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) of 1990. Organic production is a system that is managed in accordance with the OFPA and regulations in Title 7, Part 205 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
What is the most common misconception?
Organic means no pesticides. False
Organic means that the product certified to the USDA standards as being produced and processed using methods that integrated cultural, biological and mechanical practices (see article on IPM) that foster the cycling of resources, promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity.
Organic crops. The USDA organic seal verifies that irradiation, sewage sludge, synthetic fertilizers, prohibited pesticides, and genetically modified organisms were not used.
Organic livestock. The USDA organic seal verifies that producers met animal health and welfare standards, did not use antibiotics or growth hormones, used 100% organic feed, and provided animals with access to the outdoors.
How does the label work?
To use the term Organic and apply the USDA Organic seal at least 95% of the ingredients must be produced organically under the law. Any remaining ingredients must consist of non-agricultural substances.
Who has to follow the law?
Operations whose gross income from organic sales totals $5,000 or more.
So, what does this mean to me as a consumer?
Well, this is marketing. You are a consumer. There is a growing body of consumers who are concerned about the way their food is produced and processed. Learn more about each company you support, you vote with your dollar.
Your local farmer at the Farmer’s Market or CSA may not be able to afford certification. But they may meet your consumer demand for no pesticide use. Talk to your local farmer and learn about his practices.
The program states “no prohibited pesticides.” It does not identify which are prohibited and whether or not these are synthetic or natural (derived from plant, animal or mineral). Certification is site-specific.
Learn how commercial farming works. It is a business. They are trying to make a profit.
Is Organic the same as non-GMO?
No, but that’s a whole other big topic which I would like to address separately because so many people get the terms confused. I will post information on genetically modified organisms (GMO) on Kelsgardenjournal.com. As you read above, the current Organic labeling program certifies that [known] genetically modified organisms were not used in organic crops.
Do I buy organic?
Yes, I selectively vote with my dollars.
Further, I support my local farmer. I strive to eat local and seasonally. I produce as much of my own food as I can. I have not eaten fast food in over 15 years (except Chipotle). I am brand loyal to companies that I see making a difference.
How much of your food is certified organic? Would you buy non-certified local produce if you knew it was grown without pesticides?
About the author:
Kel is a Master Gardener, Master Composter/ Recycler, and Naturally Beautiful Backyards Host Gardener. She has lived in USDA Zone 8 (Western Garden Zone 6) for most of her life and just recently relocated to Zone 5!
Kel began gardening in 2004. Her first gardening project was to establish a butterfly habitat garden and multi-use space for a young family. Her next project was the development of an urban pollinator habitat and a 10 month edible garden. Future entries will chronicle a 7,000 sq ft lot in a historical district.
Kel continues to pursue educational opportunities and holds an Organic Gardening certificate from OSU Extension. She has worked as an environmental educator in a range of positions including curriculum development and career & technical training at the high school level. She writes about a wide range of environmental topics.
Photo by USDAgov