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What ORGANIC means!
Just a short fifteen years ago, organic growers might have had to explain to shoppers at a farmer’s market what the label “organic” means. Today, most people understand that for a product to be labeled organic, it had to be grown without using synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or hormone supplements.
But organic growing is a system, and is not just a matter of substituting natural materials for synthetics. Whether on the large scale of the market farmer or the small scale of the backyard gardener, the underlying principles of an organic system are to work within the boundaries of nature to grow healthy food.
The system starts with a focus on healthy soil, which supports healthy plants. When plants are strong, they are naturally disease and pest resistant.
The term “organic” refers to the way agricultural products are grown and processed. Specific requirements must be met and maintained in order for products to be labeled as “organic.”
Organic crops must be grown in safe soil, have no modifications, and must remain separate from conventional products. Farmers are not allowed to use synthetic pesticides, bio-engineered genes (GMOs), petroleum-based fertilizers, and sewage sludge-based fertilizers.
Organic livestock must have access to the outdoors and be given organic feed. They may not be given antibiotics, growth hormones, or any animal-by-products. via helpguide.org
Simply stated, organic produce and other ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. Animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones. via organic.org
Here is the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) definition of organic:
Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations.
Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.
Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.
Before a product can be labeled “organic,” a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards.
Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.
Produce can be called organic if it’s certified to have grown on soil that had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest. Prohibited substances include most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. In instances when a grower has to use a synthetic substance to achieve a specific purpose, the substance must first be approved according to criteria that examine its effects on human health and the environment.
As for organic meat, regulations require that animals are raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors (like the ability to graze on pasture), fed 100% organic feed and forage, and not administered antibiotics or hormones.
When it comes to processed, multi-ingredient foods, the USDA organic standards specify additional considerations. Regulations prohibit organically processed foods from containing artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors and require that their ingredients are organic, with some minor exceptions. For example, processed organic foods may contain some approved non-agricultural ingredients, like enzymes in yogurt, pectin in fruit jams, or baking soda in baked goods.
When packaged products indicate they are “made with organic [specific ingredient or food group],” this means they contain at least 70% organically produced ingredients. The remaining non-organic ingredients are produced without using prohibited practices (genetic engineering, for example) but can include substances that would not otherwise be allowed in 100% organic products. “Made with organic” products will not bear the USDA organic seal, but, as with all other organic products, must still identify the USDA-accredited certifier. You can look for the identity of the certifier on a packaged product for verification that the organic product meets USDA’s organic standards.
As with all organic foods, none of it is grown or handled using genetically modified organisms, which the organic standards expressly prohibit. via blogs.usda.gov
Why ORGANIC Food Is Better
Rather than apply chemicals to cure disease and control pests as conventional growers must do, organic growers are oriented toward prevention through continuous soil improvements. It’s a big difference in attitude: the chemical quick-fix vs. long-term soil building.
The benefits of taking the long-term approach are immediate. Rather than having to keep indoors during a “re-entry interval,” (after using poisonous chemical pesticides, there is a required safety period when people must avoid the area), organic gardeners never experience exile from the location where they grow food.
Also, there is the difference in the effect on local water sources. Organic gardeners don’t contaminate ponds and groundwater with synthetics. In short, gardeners who live where they grow food have a particular motivation and advantage in using an organic system: personal health and safety.
But everyone benefits when organic methods are used because they are sustainable: wholesome food is produced in a system that respects the natural environment.
Organic Is Becoming Main Stream
In the past decade and a half, organic products have achieved almost mainstream status. Where organic produce was a specialty item in a few upscale grocery stores in the early 1990s, today’s supermarkets commonly offer organically produced items.
An upward spiral is happening. Organics have become more available and more affordable. The result is that a larger proportion of the population buys organics.
This leads to an increased general awareness of the benefits for people and the environment of organic production. Greater awareness of the benefits contributes to a greater demand for organic products. Higher demand encourages growers to an even larger production of organics. Increased production results in organics being increasingly available and affordable… and upward the trend goes.
During the 1990s, organic product sales dramatically increased at the rate of more than 20 percent every year. By the beginning of the 21st century, sales of organic products passed the $9 billion mark.
Today in 2014, the majority of US consumers (7 out of 10) buy organic food at least some of the time. These statistics are encouraging indications that organic production is here to stay. This is good news for the well-being of people and the environment.
Author: This article was written for Self Sufficiency HQ by Caroline Taylor of Klamath Falls, Oregon.