Organic FAQ

What does ‘Organic’ mean?
Organic : not using artificial chemicals in the production of plants and animals for food.

What are the advantages of Organic Food?

Why Buy Organic
By: Gina A. Fera
Edited by: Christopher M. Barrett

Often people ask what the advantages of buying organic are. Some people are reluctant to pay the higher prices that the more labor-intensive organic growing methods entail. Conventional farming methods may produce more affordable food but at a cost of toxic burden to our water supply, soil loss, and the loss of our nation’s small farms. Choosing organic helps to reverse the harm to the environment.
Pesticide use breeds resistant insects. Since 1960 the number of crop damaging insects has risen from 160 to 450! The wide use of toxic chemicals on our foods did not come about until after World War I and a return to organic farming reflects farming before the advent of these chemicals. This doesn’t mean that organic growing methods are archaic. On the other hand, they are highly technological. For example, to prevent worms in apples, many organic orchards use a “pheromone mating disruptive.” This scent confuses the male moth and prevents him from mating with the female – no mating, no larvae to damage the apples…non-toxic, species specific, and effective.
There are now uniform guidelines out- lined by the USDA that every grower in the nation must follow in order to offer certified organic products. In order to be labeled certified organic, foods must meet the following requirements:

  • Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are prohibited.
  • Synthetic pesticide and herbicide applications are not allowed; instead organic farmers must rely on practices such as cover cropping, beneficial insects, and companion planting.
  • The use of compost to produce healthy and fertile soil that results in strong plants.
  • Sewage sludge fertilizer and irradiation are prohibited. Organically raised livestock must have access to pasture, organically grown feed and humane treatment. Growth hormones are not permitted and animals receiving antibiotics must be removed from the organic operation.

Farmers’ land must be kept free of applied chemicals for three years and they must keep detailed ongoing records in order to be certified organic, Unfortunately, due to the pervasive- ness of chemicals in our environment, organic products cannot claim to be pesticide free. However, tests conducted by Consumers Union in 1998 conclude that there is minimal or nonexistent pesticide residue on organic produce.
When you buy organic not only are you reducing your exposure to toxic pesticides but also you are reducing risks to the environment for future generations. Organic is a vote for clean air and water. Five to six billion pounds of toxic pesticides are released into the environment yearly throughout the world. Often these highly toxic pesticides remain in the soil, water and air for decades after use. DDT, outlawed in this country nearly thirty years ago is still found in the environment.
Critics often site studies that claim conventional yields are greater than organic and could never feed the world. The Rodale Institute concluded in a 1999 trial study that after a four-year transition, organic yields were comparable to those plants grown conventionally and were more tolerant of sub-optimal growing conditions such as drought.
How can you tell if what you are buying is truly organically grown? One way is to look for a certified I organic label. Secondly, buy from reputable grocers (like the Co-op) who take seriously their role in buying direct from a certified farm when possible will allow you I to ask the farmer directly what methods were used.
Starting in October of 2002, a USDA Organic label will begin appearing on foods offered in markets. Choosing this label is a choice against GMOs and toxic pesticides, and for reducing environmental pollution, supporting healthy farms, farm workers and our children’s health.

Reconnect to the earth, choose wisely, choose organic.

“The New Organics.” Delicious Living . September 2001, seventeen: 30-36.
Stonyfield Farm. “A Practical Guide to Understanding Organic.”

Is organic food safe?

Sometimes it is perceived that organic food is unsafe. This is not true. Since pesticides, chemicals and genetic modifications are not used in organic food it actually makes them safer than most foods. The chemicals and pesticides used to keep insects off food normally stay on or in the food they are put on. These chemicals are designed to kill insects to protect the crop. Unfortunately since most of these substances remain on our food we land up eating the chemicals intended for insects. According to the Environmental Protection Agency continued exposure to these chemicals has shown to cause cancer, birth defects, nerve damage and genetic mutations. Also according to the EPA 60% of all herbicides, 90% of all fungicides and 30% of all insecticides used in non-organic food are carcinogenic.

Not using pesticides or other chemicals when growing food has not shown to make this food any more unsafe than non-organically grown food. As with all food just because a product is organic does not mean a grower will ship out insect invested products to consumers. Most farmers use natural ideas to keep insects off their crop, such as planting a certain type of plant they know insects are not attracted to in order to keep them off their crop.

Who controls the standards on organic food?

It took ten years of heated and complex debate but on February 10, 2001 the FDA’s The Natural Organic Standards Act went into effect and foods started carrying “organic” labels the week of October 22, 2002. This act gives the FDA power to control what is nd is not “organic” food. All foods claiming organic must now carry an official USDA seal certifying it meets the following conditions.

When the label says ‘100 percent organic’ or ‘organic’

  • Product must contain only organically produced raw or processed material, excluding water and salt.
  • Product must be at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients. Remainder must be made up of nonagricultural substances or products approved on the USDA’s National List.
  • Products meeting these requirements must display the terms on their principal display panel.
  • USDA seal and the seal or mark of certifying agents may appear on packages and in advertisements.

When the label says ‘Made with Organic Ingredients’

  • Products must contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients. A list of up to three separate ingredients may be included on the principal display label.
  • A certifying agent’s seal or mark may be used on the package; use of a USDA seal is prohibited.

Other labeling provisions

  • Packaging of any product labeled organic must state the actual percentage of organic ingredients and use the word ‘organic’ to modify each organically produced ingredient.
  • The name and address of the certifying agent must be displayed on the label’s information panel.
  • No restrictions are made upon the use of truthful labeling claims, such as ‘pesticide free,’ ‘no drugs or growth hormones used’ or ‘sustainably harvested.’
  • Products made with less than 50 percent organic ingredients may make no claim other than designating specific organic ingredients among information.

Source: USDA National Organic Program