What Does Certified Organic Mean?
The dictionary says organic means of, related to or derived from living organisms. The use of this word by producers and manufacturers can be misused or misunderstood. It’s use is far more complicated then slapping the term on a box or can and calling it organic. As I’m sure everyone is aware of by now, manufacturers twist terms, words, and phrases into
the image they want to portray to the public. Unfortunately this rarely reflects the true nature of the product, healthy or otherwise. It’s generally a sales ploy.
“All Natural” as an Example
We’ve all heard the words “all natural” for many, many years and we’ve all been duped for many, many years into believing this meant the product we were consuming was completely of nature when of course there is no guarantee that it truly is “all natural.” Manufacturers may include plant abstracts or juices in products, call it natural, then add in chemical preservatives, dies, and perfumes thus rendering an originally healthy product toxic and the public is rarely aware of it as they go about their daily lives. Not only that but natural ingredients is no guarantee that they weren’t grown in chemical laden fields or taken from hormone laced livestock. This is an example of a very misused term and one that is unregulated by the government. Buyer beware!
So What is “Certified Organic”?
The same applies, to varying degree, to the products labeled organic, accept that there are some USDA rules and guidelines for the use of the term “certified organic“. In order for a product to carry the USDA certified organic label it must be 95% organic. This leaves 5% leeway for manufacturers to insert non-organic stuff, maybe non-organic ingredients, maybe preservatives, maybe anything. To be guaranteed of a 100% organic product you must look for the 100% symbol. The USDA stamp alone is no promise that there isn’t some toxic substance in that extra 5%. Products may be labeled “made with certified organic ingredients” if they are 70% organic, meaning that 30% may be of non-organic origins. And finally manufacturers are permitted to list organically produced ingredients on the side label if their product contains less then 70% certified organic ingredients. So, conclusion: it is very hard to escape the chemical world we’ve all been plunged into, willingly or unwillingly.
Certified Organic Gets Downplayed by Congress
Unfortunately for consumers and those dedicated to the organic revolution Congress relaxed its certified organic guidelines in 2005. Loopholes in new guidelines could allow dairy animals treated with antibiotics, animal by-products and hormones as babies to be converted to organic production. The loophole may also allow artificial or chemical substances, including nearly 500 food contact chemicals to be used in organic processed food without approval.
Finally, these new guidelines allow non-organic ingredients to be substituted for organic without notification during “emergency decrees”. This basically opens the consumers back up to the onslaught of man-made toxins when they thought they were buying healthier, chemical-free products. All this happened despite huge consumer, and organic producer opposition, making this writer have to wonder whose best interest does congress have at heart?
What Does it Take to Become Certified Organic?
Needless to say, becoming certified organic by the USDA is very difficult, costly and time consuming. Their guidelines and rules can be stringent and tough. For growers this includes abstaining from the use of chemical poisons, such as pesticides, and sewage slug 3 years prior to certification. This often means allowing fields to lie fallow for three years, producing no revenue for the farmer. Growers may not use pesticides and other chemical poisons during the duration of their certification. Organic growers may not use genetically altered or enhanced organisms nor may they irradiate. They must also practice sustainable farming methods which include, soil building, crop rotation, manure management and conservation of the land. Ranchers must provide outdoor pasture for grazers. Pasture land is required
to be free of pesticides and other poisons as well. Livestock may not be treated with unnecessary antibiotics or hormones and must be fed only certified organic feed. Finally, growers and ranchers must avoid contamination with toxins during collection and processing and keep meticulous records of all operations. The guidelines for manufacturers are just as stringent in their controls. But it doesn’t stop there. The USDA sends inspectors annually to check records and crops. Often times they come unannounced.
So Why Do They Do It? Why Do Growers Choose to Go Through the Rigors of Gaining Organic Certification?
Firstly there is a growing community of farmers, gardeners, ranchers, producers and manufacturers that believe in sustainable methods of producing food and other products. These people see much further into the future, preparing, keeping, maintaining and protecting the ground for future generations as opposed to mining the ground for short term
gain. Basically they do it because they believe in it and they believe in its growth and it is growing.
So why the heck do organics cost so much more? There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly there will be lower crop yield due to natural processes we once controlled with poisons. Secondly, the rules and regulations imposed by the USDA require much more time and attention to detail costing the farmer and manufacturer. Thirdly, though growing, the industry remains small. As we all know as the supply begins to actually balance with demand, prices go down. Meaning the more you buy, the more the farmer can afford to produce thus lowering his prices. Just like with anything else.
It has even been mentioned that adding together all the money the country spends in health care to treat toxin related diseases, the cost to clean up toxic spills and other related needs equals or exceeds the difference we pay for certified organic products which protect our health and environment from ever becoming damaged in the first place.