The Organic Center's Definition of Organic:
Organic agriculture methods promote biodiversity, the biological cycling of nutrients, and plant and animal health. Organic farmers do not use toxic synthetic pesticides, hormones to hasten animal growth and increase production, genetic modification or genetically modified feed, or artificial fertilizers. Instead, they use management practices that restore, maintain, and enhance soil health and ecosystem integrity.
Can I peel my conventional fruits and vegetables to reduce pesticide risk?
•About 20% of currently registered pesticides are called "systemics." Systemic pesticides move into the plant through the root system, travel throughput the plant via its vascular system (plant blood, in effect), and move into surface tissues, where they either stop viral pathogens from growing or kill or repel insects. Some pesticides are 100% systemic, others are partially systemic.
•For more information on this topic visit Dr. Benbrook's Rachel Carson paper
Q&A Courtesy of The Organic Trade Association
What does "Certified Organic" mean?
•"Certified Organic" means the item has been grown according to strict uniform standards that are verified by independent state or private organizations. Certification includes inspections of farm fields and processing facilities, detailed record keeping, and periodic testing of soil and water to ensure that growers and handlers are meeting the standards which have been set.
• Click for more information about the USDA's National Organic Program
Can any type of agricultural product become certified organic?
•Yes, any agricultural product that meets third-party or state certification requirements may be considered organic. Organic foods are becoming available in an impressive variety, including pasta, prepared sauces, frozen juices, frozen meals, milk, ice cream and frozen novelties, cereals, meat, poultry, breads, soups, chocolate, cookies, beer, wine, vodka and more. These foods, in order to be certified organic, have all been grown and processed according to organic standards and must maintain a high level of quality. Organic fiber products, too, have moved beyond T-shirts, and include bed and bath linens, tablecloths, napkins, cosmetic puffs, feminine hygiene products, and men's, women's and children's clothing in a wide variety of styles.
Who regulates the certified organic claims?
•The federal government set standards for the production, processing and certification of organic food in the Organic Food Production Act of 1990 (OFPA). The National Organic Standards Board was then established to develop guidelines and procedures to regulate all organic crops. The U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) during December 2000 unveiled detailed regulations to implement OFPA. These took effect on April 21, 2001, with an 18-month implementation period ending October 2002. At that time, any food labeled organic must meet these national organic standards. USDA's National Organic Program oversees the program.
Are all organic products completely free of pesticide residues?
•Certified organic products have been grown and handled according to strict standards without toxic and persistent chemical inputs. However, organic crops are inadvertently exposed to agricultural chemicals that are now pervasive in rain and ground water due to their overuse during the past fifty years in North America, and due to drift via wind and rain.
Do organic farmers ever use pesticides?
•Prevention is the organic farmer's primary strategy for disease, weed, and insect control. By building healthy soils, organic farmers find that healthy plants are better able to resist disease and insects. Organic producers often select species that are well adapted for the climate and therefore resist disease and pests. When pest populations get out of balance, growers will try various options like insect predators, mating disruption, traps, and barriers. If these fail, permission may be granted by the certifier to apply botanical or other nonpersistent pest controls under restricted conditions. Botanicals are derived from plants and are broken down quickly by oxygen and sunlight.
How will purchasing organic products help keep our water clean?
•Conventional agricultural methods can cause water contamination. Beginning in May 1995, a network of environmental organizations, including the Environmental Working Group, began testing tap water for herbicides in cities across the United States' Corn Belt, and in Louisiana and Maryland. The results revealed widespread contamination of tap water with many different pesticides at levels that present serious health risks. In some cities, herbicides in tap water exceed federal lifetime health standards for weeks or months at a time. The organic farmer's elimination of polluting chemicals and nitrogen leaching, in combination with soil building, works to prevent contamination, and protects and conserves water resources.
Why does organic food sometimes cost more?
•Prices for organic foods reflect many of the same costs as conventional items in terms of growing, harvesting, transportation and storage. Organically produced foods must meet stricter regulations governing all of these steps, so the process is often more labor- and management-intensive, and farming tends to be on a smaller scale. There is also mounting evidence that if all the indirect costs of conventional food productioncleanup of polluted water, replacement of eroded soils, costs of health care for farmers and their workerswere factored into the price of food, organic foods would cost the same or, more likely, be cheaper.
Isn't organic food just a fad?
•U. S. sales of organic food and beverages have grown from $1 billion in 1990 to an estimated $20 billion in 2007. The market for these goods is projected to reach nearly $23.6 billion in 2008, and grow an average of 18% each year from 2007-2010. The adoption of national standards for certification is expected to open up new markets for U. S. organic producers. Internationally, organic sales continue to grow as well.
For more information about organic trade and policy visit The Organic Trade Association.