This week wraps up the discussion of “organic” foods before comparing them to “conventionally” produced foods. Last week’s column briefly described what organic means in general terms. When you purchase a product “Certified Organic” what does that really mean?
For a food to be certified as organic in the U.S. there are rules in place that must be met. Briefly, here is how it works:
• The USDA uses private and state agencies to inspect organic foods.
• Organic farms with less than $5,000 annually in sales are exempt from the certification process but must make accurate claims regarding their products and comply with the rules. There is a potential $10,000 fine for each violation for selling organic foods that do not comply.
• If it is certified organic it means the food doesn’t contain antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, irradiation or bioengineering. Organic farmers agree to adhere to specific soil and water conservation methods and to rules regarding the humane treatment of animals.
Here is how the USDA defines the following terms:
• 100 percent organic. Products that are completely organic or made of all organic ingredients.
• Organic. Products that are at least 95 percent organic.
• Made with organic ingredients. These are products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients. The organic seal can’t be used on these packages.
• If the product contains less than 70% organic ingredients it may not contain the word organic on the label or the organic seal. It may least ingredients as organic in the ingredient list.
• Terms like “free-range” and “all-natural” should not be confused with products labeled as organic.
There isn’t room for detail of all the specifics of what all the criteria are for organic foods as they vary depending on the product involved. Suffice it to say that synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are prohibited as are genetically modified organisms and when land is involved, there is a necessary period of time the land must be free of synthetic chemicals before the products are considered organic. One of the difficulties in certain organic operations is insuring that there is no contamination of the organic food production process from nearby nonorganic operation. And as part of the annual inspection and certification process, extensive detailed records must be maintained. Next week is a comparison of organically labeled vs “nonorganic” foods.