The word “organic” can mean a lot of different things depending upon who you ask. For many it might simply be defined as food that is produced naturally or without using pesticides. The United States Department of Agriculture defines organic as a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural products has been produced through approved methods. These methods integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used. An original and more succinct definition of organic is a natural method of gardening and farming that promotes the good husbandry of land.
All products that are sold with a USDA organic label are overseen by the National Organic Program. The NOP has the responsibility of regulating all certified organic crops, livestock, and agricultural products. There are four categories of products with organic ingredients: 100% organic, organic, made with organic ingredients, and specific organic ingredients. The majority of products on store shelves fall within the plain organic category are required to contain at least 95% of ingredients to be certified organic.
Prior to an agricultural product being labeled USDA organic, the entire process from production to packaging requires a certification process. This consists of certifying agents that are accredited by the USDA to ensure that agricultural products meet all organic standards. The certification standards address a wide variety of factors such as soil quality, animal husbandry practices, and pest control methods. Organic producers are required, to the fullest extent possible, to use only substances originating from natural sources and physical, mechanical, or biologically-based production practices. For instance, a synthetic pesticide is generally not allowed, while a pesticide originating from a natural source may be used. Before land can be used for organic production it must have no prohibited substances, such as synthetic herbicides, applied during the last three years prior to harvest. Organic animal products require that livestock are raised within conditions that accommodate their natural behavior, are provided organic pasture or feed, and are not given antibiotics or hormones.
The organic label only applies to agricultural outputs rather than inputs, such as fertilizers or pesticides. Allowed agricultural inputs are approved for use in organic production by the Environmental Protection Agency. The two kinds of allowed organic inputs will have on the label “For Organic Production” or the acronym OMRI which stands for Organic Materials Review Institute.
Organic production often has higher risk of crop or livestock loss due to limited options and requires substantial planning and attention to detail. While organic production can be a challenge it takes into considerations holistic and sustainable approach to problem solving rarely necessary in conventional production. When buying an organic product the consumer acquires a product, but they are also giving an endorsement to the how that product was created and provide those farms and companies with the means to continue into the future. The same is true for any products that are consumed.