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Frequently Asked Questions About Organic Food & Farming

by Sunny Datko

What is Organic Certification?

Organic certification is a process of certifying that a certain product has passed performance and/or qualification requirements stipulated in regulations for producers of organic food and other organic agricultural products. Achieving certification generally involves complying with a set of production standards for growing, storage, processing, packaging and shipping that include:

  • Avoidance of synthetic chemical inputs that are not allowed for use on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (e.g. fertilizer, pesticides, antibiotics, food additives, GMO)
  • Keeping detailed written production and sales records (audit trail)
  • Undergoing periodic on-site inspections.
  • Maintaining strict physical separation of organic products from non-certified products
How Is Organic Food Regulated in the US?

In the United States, almost all agricultural products sold with the label “organic” or “made with organic ingredients” must be certified under the National Organic Program (NOP), operated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).   The Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) certifies the use of certain materials, such as fertilizers, pesticides or substrates, for use in organic cultivation of crops. Products that are approved will have the words “certified organic” and/or “OMRI listed®” on the label, along with a picture of the certification logo.

Is All Organic Food Certified Organic?

Just because the brand name may have the word “organic” in the title, it does not necessarily mean it’s certified organic.  Companies may have the word ”organic” as part of their name (i.e., Gaia Organics Inc.), even if their products are not made with organic materials. The National Organic Program does not categorically forbid this practice. The preamble to its regulations states that the word ”organic” in a brand name ”does not inherently imply an organic production or handling claim and, thus, does not inherently constitute a false or misleading statement.’ To make things even more confusing, fertilizers and other products are sometimes labeled as “natural,” a term that is often mistaken for organic. However, for a fertilizer to carry an organic label it must pass high quality processing and manufacturing standards. A product may be labeled “natural” if it contains ingredients from a natural source, such as plants or animals. Manufacturers of such products are not required to comply with pesticide or chemical restrictions.

Is Organic Food “Better”?

Acquiring the certifications can be an expensive and time-consuming process. The investment of time and money required to understand and ensure compliance with such regulations is often beyond the means of smaller producers. The end result is that there are many smaller operators out there who are not certified, despite meeting or exceeding certification standards, and that there are some larger operators who are certified, despite maintaining very industrialized means of production. In addition, the USDA makes no claim that commercial organically grown food is safer for consumption.


References

1 Food Centre – Regulatory Compliance. Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Centre Inc. http://www.foodcentre.sk.ca/Food_Industry_Training_Centre/Regularory_Compliance/

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