Question:  How do I know it’s really organic? [Ray S.]

First let’s examine what is meant by the term “organic”

Organic agricultural practices involve:

  • Use of cover crops, green manures, animal manures and crop rotations to fertilize the soil, maximize biological activity and maintain long-term soil health.
  • Use of biological control, crop rotations and other techniques to manage weeds, insects and diseases.
  • An emphasis on biodiversity of the agricultural system and the surrounding environment.
  • Using rotational grazing and mixed forage pastures for livestock operations and alternative health care for animal wellbeing.
  • Reduction of external and off-farm inputs and elimination of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and other materials, such as hormones and antibiotics.
  • A focus on renewable resources, soil and water conservation, and management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological balance

All food items labeled as organic will have this seal on the package.

There is a vigorous set of standards that every farmer must adhere to in order to qualify as certified organic.  Among the requirements is a 36 month transition period during which no synthetic pesticides nor manufactured fertilizers can be added to the soil that would become certified.  No one is allowed to use the above government label on their packages until after certification is completed including a site visit with approval has been granted by a trained certifier. The key words are certified organic.

Recently, the Rodale Institute initiated another higher level of organic farming practices that they term, “Regenerative Organic Certified”

The goals of Regenerative Organic Certification from Rodale are,” to increase soil organic matter over time and potentially sequester carbon into the soil to mitigate climate change, improve animal welfare, provide economic stability and fairness for farmers, ranchers, and workers, and create resilient regional ecosystems and communities.” It encompasses soil health, animal welfare, and social fairness.

The goals of the Soil Health component of regenerative organic certified are:

No/low Tillage – Use of Cover Crops – Crop Rotations – Rotational Grazing – No Synthetic (pesticide, fertilizer) Inputs – No GMOs or Gene Editing products – Promote Soil Biodiversity – Build Soil Organic Matter (sequester carbon)- No Soilless Systems (hydroponics won’t qualify).

Regarding the significance of food labels:

Labeling of our foods is a complex often confusing situation primarily due to competitive industry strategies intended to sell us more of their food products. Here are some common terms seen on our foods:

The “Natural” label.  What does this mean? This term is not recognized nor defined by the US Food and Drug Administration.  It is meaningless and has no guarantee of being healthy for you.  It is often associated with vegetable oils derived from genetically engineered crops (GMOs) like corn and canola oils.

“Non-GMO”. Product does not contain material derived from GMO crops.  This does not mean it is organic.  The food can be laden with pesticides and produced using conventional (industrial) agricultural technologies.

 USDA certified organic. Produced using federally USDA certified agricultural practices listed above.

Made with organic materials. Foods in this category must contain at least 70 percent certified organic ingredients (not including salt or water. Foods labeled “made with organic products” can’t use the USDA organic seal, but must identify the USDA-accredited certifying agent. Much like the “natural” food label, this is another buyer beware product.  The remaining 30% of ingredients may be laden with pesticides or other synthetic toxic chemicals, but still cannot contain GMO products.