What Is Organic Food, Exactly?
Buzz is reaching new heights with organic foods. It seems to be on the front page of news organizations daily, whether it be about vegetables, fruits, meat, or even clothing. If you don't know exactly what "organic" means, you might be a left in the dark on the conversation.
The "organic" label denotes a food product that meets USDA organic standards. The standards that are required to use the organic label are generally the following:
1. The food item that is produced does not use chemical or synthetic inputs. This means not spraying crops with synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, or fungicides. In animal production, it means not feeding animals foods that have not been treated with synthetics.
2. The food produced is grown on land that has been synthetic free for 3 years (generally). Some products might be labeled as "transitioning to organic", which means that the farm currently follows all organic regulations and standards, but is being produced on a farm that might have used synthetics in previous years. Once they meet the regulatory threshold, they can then use the regular organic label.
3. Organic food producers must maintain stringent documentation, and be open to periodic on-site inspections by a regulatory agency to make sure these documents are properly reflected in reality.
These are the general rules set forth by the USDA. The USDA does provide actual certification, but there are also other third party certifiers around the country that can also certify foods as being organic. These organizations have more demanding standards that provides incentive for a more quality product that consumers can trust.
All of this matters because organic food is the fastest growing sector in the food economy. It's popularity is growing because of the health risks that have been associated with the synthetic sprays that are used to grow conventional crops, which some studies have shown can cause all sorts of diseases, including cancer. Organic food can allay the concerns of consumers, and ensure that they are eating a clean, wholesome product.
Since organic food producers cannot rely on synthetics to keep down weeds and fertilize, they often times practice more environmentally friendly farming methods. Instead of spraying fertilizers, they use organic fertilizers made from organic sources, and use huge amounts of compost, which encourages biodiversity in the soil.
It is the combination of health and environmental benefits that attracts consumers to organic products. Organic is a step in the right direction for a more sustainable form of food production, and by purchasing it regularly at the store, you are supporting the organic industry.