:: Frequently Asked Questions

Qns. What is organic farming?

Organic refers to agricultural production systems used to produce food and fiber. All kinds of agricultural products are produced organically, including produce, grains, meat, dairy, eggs, fibers such as cotton, flowers, and processed food products. Organic farming management relies on developing biological diversity in the field to disrupt habitat for pest organisms, and the purposeful maintenance and replenishment of soil fertility. Organic farmers are not allowed to use synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. Some of the essential characteristics of organic systems include: design and implementation of an "organic system plan" that describes the practices used in producing crops and livestock products; a detailed recordkeeping system that tracks all products from the field to point of sale; and maintenance of buffer zones to prevent inadvertent contamination from adjacent conventional fields.

Qns. What is the difference between "organic" and "certified organic"?

Produce sold as organic should carry labeling indicating that it was grown in accordance with the local State Food Act. This labeling simply means that the grower is registered with the state as an organic producer. Registered producers are not necessarily certified, and may not ever have been inspected to verify their organic claims.

Qns. What does certified organic mean?
Ans. Certified organic refers to agricultural products that have been grown and processed according to uniform standards, verified by independent state or private organizations accredited by the USDA. All products sold as "organic" must be certified. Certification includes annual submission of an organic system plan and inspection of farm fields and processing facilities. Inspectors verify that organic practices such as long-term soil management, buffering between organic farms and neighboring conventional farms, and recordkeeping are being followed. Processing inspections include review of the facility's cleaning and pest control methods, ingredient transportation and storage, and recordkeeping and audit control. Organic foods are minimally processed to maintain the integrity of food without artificial ingredients or preservatives. Certified organic requires the rejection of synthetic agrochemicals, irradiation and genetically engineered foods or ingredients. To find out more about the national organic certification requirements and organic program, please go to the USDA National Organic Program website www.ams.usda.gov/nop.
Qns. What does the USDA Organic seal mean?
Ans. The USDA Organic seal assures consumers of the quality and integrity of organic products. Organic-certified operations must have an organic system plan and records that verify compliance with that plan. Operators are inspected annually in addition there are random checks to assure standards are being met.
Qns. Is organic food more nutritious than conventional food?
Ans. The definitive study has not been done, mainly because of the multitude of variables involved in making a fair comparison between organically grown and conventionally grown food. These include crop variety, time after harvest, post-harvest handling, and even soil type and climate, which can have significant effects on nutritional quality. A 2002 report indicates that organic food is far less likely to contain pesticide residues than conventional food (13% of organic produce samples vs. 71% of conventional produce samples contained a pesticide residue, when long-banned persistent pesticides were excluded). For more information on this 2002 report (Baker, B.P., C.M. Benbrook, E. Groth III, and K.L. Benbrook. 2002. Pesticide residues in conventional, integrated pest management (IPM)-grown and organic food: insights from three US data sets. Food Additives and Contaminants 19:427-446.) go to the Organic Materials Review Institute website www.omri.org
Qns. Is organic food safe?
Ans. Yes. Organic food is as safe to consume as any other kind of food. Just as with any kind of produce, consumers should wash before consuming to ensure maximum cleanliness. As cited above, organic produce contains significantly lower levels of pesticide residues than conventional produce. It is a common misconception that organic food could be at greater risk of E. coli contamination because of raw manure application although conventional farmers commonly apply tons of raw manure as well with no regulation whatsoever. Organic standards set strict guidelines on manure use in organic farming: either it must be first composted, or it must be applied at least 90 days before harvest, which allows ample time for microbial breakdown of any pathogens.
Qns. Can any type of agricultural product become certified organic?
Ans. 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 fibre 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.
Qns. How do I know if something is organic?

The USDA has identified for three categories of labeling organic products:

100% Organic: Made with 100% organic ingredients
Organic: Made with at least 95% organic ingredients
Made With Organic Ingredients: Made with a minimum of 70% organic ingredients with strict restrictions on the remaining 30% including no GMOs (genetically modified organisms)

Qns. Is organic food really a significant industry?
Ans. Approximately 2% of the U.S. food supply is grown using organic methods. Over the past decade, sales of organic products have shown an annual increase of at least 20%, the fastest growing sector of agriculture. In 2001, retail sales of organic food were projected to be $9.3 billion (Organic Consumer Trends 2001. Published by the Natural Marketing Institute, in partnership with the Organic Trade Association. Organic foods can be found at natural food stores and major supermarkets, as well as through grower direct marketing such as CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) and farmers' markets. Many restaurant chefs across the country are using organic produce because they desire its superior quality and taste. Organic food is also gaining international acceptance, with nations like Japan and Germany becoming important international organic food markets.
Qns. What is a GMO?
Ans. GMO stands for "Genetically Modified Organisms." Applied to crops, the term refers to any genetic plant type that has had a gene or genes from a different species transferred into its genetic material using accepted techniques of genetic engineering.
Qns. Why does organic cost more?
Ans. The cost of organic food is higher than that of conventional food because the organic price tag more closely reflects the true cost of growing the food: substituting labor and intensive management for chemicals, the health and environmental costs of which are borne by society. These costs include cleanup of polluted water and remediation of pesticide contamination. Prices for organic foods include costs of growing, harvesting, transportation and storage. In the case of processed foods, processing and packaging costs are also included. Organically produced foods must meet stricter regulations governing all these steps than conventional foods. The intensive management and labor used in organic production are frequently (though not always) more expensive than the chemicals routinely used on conventional farms. There is mounting evidence that if all the indirect costs of conventional food production were factored into the price of food, organic foods would cost the same, or, more likely, be cheaper than conventional food.
Qns. Is there a national standard for organic?
Ans. Yes. In October 2002, the National Organic Rule will go into effect. For the first time, rather than different sets of organic standards in each state, there will be a uniform set of organic production, processing, and labeling standards across the United States. Anyone who sells a product as "organic" is required by law to be certified (The National Organic Rule and other policies of USDA's National Organic Program may be accessed on the web at http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/index.htm). USDA oversees implementation of the Rule through its National Organic Program but does not certify organic operations itself; instead, it accredits independent certifiers to certify growers and processors on USDA's behalf.
Qns. How do organic farmers fertilize crops? How do they control pests, diseases, and weeds?
Ans. Organic farmers build healthy soils by nourishing the living component of the soil, the microbial inhabitants that release, transform, and transfer nutrients. Soil organic matter contributes to good soil structure and water-holding capacity. Organic farmers feed soil biota and build soil structure and water-holding capacity. Organic farmers feed soil biota and build soil organic matter with cover crops, compost, and biologically based soil amendments. These produce healthy plants that are better able to resist disease and insect predation. Organic farmers' primary strategy in controlling pests and diseases is prevention through good plant nutrition and management. Organic farmers use cover crops and sophisticated crop rotations to change the field ecology, effectively disrupting habitat for weeds, insects, and disease organisms. Weeds are controlled through crop rotation, mechanical tillage, and hand-weeding, as well as through cover crops, mulches, flame weeding, and other management methods. Organic farmers rely on a diverse population of soil organisms, beneficial insects, and birds to keep pests in check. When pest populations get out of balance, growers implement a variety of strategies such as the use of insect predators, mating disruption, traps and barriers. Under the National Organic Rule, growers are required to use sanitation and cultural practices first before they can resort to applying a material to control a weed, pest or disease problem. Use of these materials in organic production is regulated, strictly monitored, and documented. As a last resort, certain botanical or other non-synthetic pesticides may be applied.
Qns. How are organic livestock and poultry raised?
Ans. Organic meat, dairy products, and eggs are produced from animals that are fed organic feed and allowed access to the outdoors. They must be kept in living conditions that accommodate the natural behavior of the animals. Ruminants must have access to pasture. Organic livestock and poultry may not be give antibiotics, hormones, or medications in the absence of illness; however, they may be vaccinated against disease. Parasiticide use is strictly regulated. Livestock diseases and parasites are controlled primarily through preventative measures such as rotational grazing, balanced diet, sanitary housing, and stress reduction.