Organic Food Certification
Made with Organic
By Jeanette Joy Fisher
What does the term Organic really Mean?
The term "organic" is being tossed around quite a bit
lately, and you'll soon be seeing a big jump in the number
of organic choices when you visit your local Safeway or
Wal-Mart store. That's because the demand for organic
produce, milk, and meat has been steadily increasing, to
the point where the giant retail chains have begun to take
the trend seriously. In turn, there will be a growing
concern over the certification process as factory-style
farms begin to muscle their way into the organic food
market as a result of increased demand.
In 2000, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
established what were supposed to be clear guidelines for
gaining organic certification, but various ambiguous areas
will continue to confuse consumers until those guidelines
are made even more clear.
For instance, under USDA rules, growers of fruits,
vegetables, meat, and milk are forbidden from using most
synthetic pesticides or fertilizer in food production.
They're also prohibited from using genetic engineering,
irradiation, or sewage sludge. To be certified organic,
livestock must be fed nothing but certified organic feed
and can't be given any sort of growth hormone. They must
also be allowed to be outside at least a portion of every
day, though the rules for what that actually means have
been open to serious dispute over the past few years.
The USDA guidelines were meant to be fairly all-inclusive,
but there are a number of gradients, as well. Here are
some of the labels you'll see in your local co-op or
100% organic: For produce, this designation means
that fruits or vegetables were grown completely without
synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. In the case of meat
or milk, it means that all the USDA stipulations
concerning hormones, feed, and time spent outdoors were
Organic: This type of produce or meat doesn't quite
meet the highest organic standard, but the remaining 5
percent of its ingredients have been approved for
organic use by a nationwide certification organization
called the National Organics Standards Board.
Made with organic ingredients: This certification
assures consumers that no less than 70 percent of the
produce, milk, or meat was produced using organic
The last two other labels you'll see are considerably more
ambiguous. First, there's the term "free-range," which is
used interchangeably with the term "cage-free." The USDA
regulates the use of either term when it comes to poultry,
but not to eggs, and there’s no clear definition of how
much outdoor access animals should receive.
Natural Food Natural?
The other term is "natural," which has no real meaning in
any food commodity other than meat and poultry, which
can't have any artificial coloring, chemical
preservatives, or ingredients. Although it's supposed to
have only minimal processing, there's no certification
process that meat or poultry producers must comply with in
order to place the term on their labels.
As the market continues to grow, you'll be seeing these
labels more and more. What remains to be seen is if the
USDA will tighten or loosen the process in order to allow
producers to meet the growing demand for organic products.
What do these labels mean to you? You need to
trust the source of your food.
Copyright © 2006 Jeanette J. Fisher
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