Organic became a super popular word well over a decade ago and is even hotter now. So, what’s the big deal? Well, when it comes to food, organic means it pretty much makes it to your store without anyone doing or adding anything synthetic to it. It is kind of funny that Organic is so popular when at one time it was the only way food could be because techniques, technology, and added ingredients that can prevent food from being Organic did not exist. Now, the usage of synthetic hormones, pesticides, antibiotics, fertilizers, and genetic modification prevent foods from being organic.
When food is not labeled organic, it’s “conventional.” Conventional means that synthetic substances (antibiotics, fertilizers, pesticides, hormones) or genetically modified organisms may have been used when growing produce, raising livestock, or processing ingredients, but that does not have to be the case. Conventional food can be naturally produced with all natural ingredients or grown, but it’s simply not certified as organic.
The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990
The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 [download the actual act here] is the law that defined the National Organic Program (NOP), which outlines the rules and regulations of how organic food must be produced, handled, processed, and labeled. The USDA is the government agency the oversees the process that businesses and farmers must follow in order for their products to be certified organic. The USDA is also the agency that monitors if a business is abiding by organic rules and enforces penalties if regulations are not followed after a product has been certified as organic. If you want to be certified organic you must follow the rules!
1. All ingredients must be Non-GMO and free from ionizing radiation and sewage sludge.
2. Organic foods must be produced in agreement with the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances.
3. Production of Organic Foods must follow all regulations established by the USDA and overseen by a certifying agent of the USDA National Organic Program.
Organic with the 100% organic specification: all ingredients of the product are certified organic and anything used to aid the processing of the food must also be organic.
Organic: a minimum of 95 percent of the ingredients used to make the product (excluding salt and water) are certified organic. The remaining 5% of the ingredients have to be listed on the National List of products approved to be used with organic ingredients.
Made with Organic: 70 percent of the ingredients (excluding salt and water) of the product are certified organic. The remaining 30% of the ingredients do not have to be organic, but they must be produced without genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, or sewage sludge.
Produce is food, such as vegetables, fruits, grains, oats, and sugars, that is grown. Produce is organic when it is grown without the use of synthetic (man made or processed) hormones, pesticides and fertilizers.
A hormone is a substance that is used by plants and animals so they can grow. All plants and animals naturally have hormones. However, synthetic hormones can be added to plants and animals to ensure that they grow larger and quicker than they would naturally.
Pesticides are substances that kill or repel pests, such as bugs, birds, worms, insects, and weeds that can harm the growth of plants or livestock. Pesticides can be organic and synthetic (inorganic). Organic pesticides occur naturally and do not have any man made chemicals, which may be harmful to humans and what they are trying to protect.
Fertilizer is anything added to soil to improve the growth of the produce that is planted within it. Fertilizer can be organic and inorganic (synthetic). Inorganic fertilizers may be inexpensive, easily accessible, and help produce grow, but they may negative effects on the Earth if they accumulate without the ability to fully decompose. That can usually be avoided or minimized if they are used correctly, in proper proportions.
Antibiotics are substances that either kill or prevent the spread of bacteria that may cause infections and disease. In addition to that use, antibiotics are also used to stimulate the growth of livestock. Since these substances are not natural and their effects on animals and humans are not fully understood, they are forbidden to be used in organic food.
Meat is Organic when livestock, such as cows, pigs, ducks, and chickens, is only given 100% organic feed and not injected with growth hormones or antibiotics. Additionally, organic livestock must be raised in a way that is close to how it would live naturally in the wild. Organic livestock must be provided:
Access to the outdoors
Clean, dry bedding
Space for exercise
Clean drinking water
Organic Processed Food
Processed food is Organic when all of the ingredients, except for water and salt, used to make it are certified organic by the USDA and the processing methods have already been observed by the USDA and were also certified organic. So, organic milk, organic cereal, organic candy, organic cookies, organic four, organic pasta, organic bread, etc are all processed foods.
Food is considered PROCESSED when steps, such as baking, pasteurization, canning, freezing, dehydration, or combining ingredients, are taken so it can be made, packaged, marketed, and sold. Most foods, no matter if they are organic or conventional, cannot be made without processing. Grinding grain into flour, pasteurizing milk so it is safe to drink, and mixing flour, water, salt, and yeast to bake bread are all forms of food processing, no matter if the food is organic or conventional. Since that is the case, there is NOTHING inherently bad about processing food.
Ultra Processed Food is NOT ORGANIC
Ultra processed foods are not Organic. They often contain artificial additives, such as colorings, preservatives, and flavorings, have large amounts of sugar, salt, and fat and may be exposed to complex processing methods. (A product with a ton of ingredients that you cannot even pronounce is ultra processed).
A recent French study, published in the British Medical Journal, observed the eating habits of approximately 105,000 adults and found that a 10% increase in the consumption of ultra pasteurized foods was linked to a 12% increase in various cancers developing in the body. Still, many ultra processed foods with are insanely popular because they taste great.
USDA ORGANIC LABELING GUIDE
Official USDA Documents
Advantages of Organic Food
No pesticides means no potentially toxic materials (heavy metals) are contained in the food.
No synthetic hormones or antibodies, which have been linked to adverse health issues.
More antioxidants, which are beneficial nutrients, such as vitamin C and E, that help you stay healthy, may be found in some organic foods.
Studies have found that, due to the absence of synthetic additives, Organic foods are less likely to cause cancer than conventionally grown foods.
Organic meats and milks have been found to have a 50% increase in omega- 3 fatty acids, which are healthy fats that fight heart disease and lower blood pressure.
Organic farming is healthier to the environment because synthetic chemicals are not being put into the earth.
Organic foods are generally higher in quality than conventionally grown foods.
Disadvantages of Organic Food
It’s generally more expensive than conventionally grown food.
It may have a shorter shelf life due to the lack of added conventional preservatives.
The organic versions of products may be in fewer quantities and harder to find in comparison to conventionally produced food.
Many products do not exist in an organic form. As of right now, you can’t get an Organic Wendy’s Hamburger or an Organic Oreo Cookie.
Crops, Livestock, Processed products, and wild crops can be certified as organic. In order to get a product certified as organic, a business business or farm must do the following things:
1. A business of farmer must first process, grow, or raise their product in compliance with the organic practices established by the USDA.
2. The business or farmer must choose one of the many USDA-accredited certifying agents and fill out an organic certification application form and pay fees that vary due to their products and the amount of sales they plan to have.
Do not look on the USDA website for the application to become certified. You will be lead to insanity because, as far as we know, it is not there. Of course it isn’t. You must find a certifying agent and fill out the application on their website.
Speaking of the certifying agents, the certifying agents section of the USDA site is kind of confusing. It has certifiers from around the world and the filtering per state does not really work because agents from California and other states will pop if you search for those in New York. Just know that and endure. You will be good.
3. The certifying agent will review the application to make sure everything is in line with the USDA requirements.
4. The chosen agent will make an on-site visit to observe their faming, growing, or production facilities or process to confirm or deny that they are abiding by organic practices.
5. If they are in compliance, the business will receive their organic certification from the certifying agent . If they do not comply, the business will be told why and extended a chance to fix the problems so they can be certified at a later date.
One of the major things an organic product must be is NON GMO. NON GMO means that a product is not and does not contain any genetically modified organisms. But what is a genetically modified organism or GMO?
Those Darn GMOs
A GMO is an organism that has gone through a genetic process that takes DNA from other sources so it can gain favorable characteristics that it does not naturally have. For example, food that has been genetically modified may:
Grow more abundantly
Not require pesticides
Endure adverse climate conditions
Have a longer shelf life
Many have objections to GMO foods because they believe that GMOs can have adverse heath affects on the human body that many not be detectable yet.
Super Heroes: The Good GMOs
They, of course, are not food but all superheroes like Wolverine who have had their DNA changed by special government organization are Genetically Modified Organisms.
A Little Bit of Non-GMO History
Non-GMO is much more than just a label; it is the birth-child of the NON-GMO Project, which is a non-profit organization that was set up in 2007 to educate consumers about the quality of the products they buy and consume. They believe that consumers have the right to know if manufactures are using GMOs in their foods. So, they wrote to manufactures and demanded that they let their consumers know if they their foods contained or were GMOs. Many companies listened and wanted to comply. They consented to going through the NON-GMO verification process so they could proudly have the NON-GMO label listed on their packaging.
Fruits, vegetables, grains, milk, and meats have been grown and raised without being genetically modified.
Live stock has been raised without being genetically modified feed.
None of the ingredients in processed foods, such as soup, cereal, candy, etc., have been genetically modified.
Non-GMO Does Not Have to be Organic
When food is labeled as Non GMO that does not mean that it is organic. However, food labeled as USDA Organic is Non-GMO even if it is not certified as such. That’s because, by definition, organic products cannot contain anything that’s genetically modified.
The NON–GMO Verification Process
The process to become Non-GMO certified is pretty straight forward, and the information listed below and the diagram on the left were gathered directly from the Non-GMO website.
STUDY WHAT IT MEANS TO BE NON-GMO AND CONTACT THE PROJECT
SELECT A TECHNICAL ADVISOR
Choose one of the four (TA) Technical Administrators, listed below, who will evaluate your product for NON-GMO certification.
SIGN A LICENSE AGREEMENT
Sign a license agreement that will make it possible for you to use the NON-GMO trademark.
The TA will review the ingredients of your product.
The TA will evaluate your manufacturing process.
The TA will determine if your use of the NON-GMO label is being used properly, according to their guidelines.
You will receive a certificate of verification that signifies that your product has been verified NON-GMO. You will also receive marketing support from the NON-GMO project.
You will have to review your verified project every year.