What Is Organic? Most People Don’t Know

by | Jan 15, 2015 | Diet & Nutrition

Polling continues to show that Americans are all for GMO labeling – 66% according to the latest Associated Press-GfK survey. Only 7% oppose. The rest are neutral. And about 40% say having the information is important to them.

An earlier poll found that 59% of Americans say they’re concerned about GMOs. Yet less than a third of those polled could even define what a GMO is.

Similarly, although 70% of young Americans reported having bought some organic groceries, only 20% know what “organic” means.

So what does it mean?

Organic standards set by the USDA define organic agriculture as that which uses “methods that preserve the environment and avoid most synthetic materials, such as pesticides and antibiotics.” In practice, this means

  • Crops are not genetically modified (GMO) and produced without irradiation, sewage sludge, synthetic fertilizers and prohibited pesticides.
  • Livestock is raised in a way that meets animal health and welfare standards, without antibiotics or growth hormones, given 100% organic feed and provided access to the outdoors.

Only food raised in this way can be certified organic. As for processed food products made with organic ingredients, here’s how the labeling works:

organic certification chart

A full description of national organic standards is available here.

Unfortunately, any product of politics – as the organic standards are – is subject to a lot of continued politicking. Organizations such as the Organic Consumers Association provide an invaluable service in making people aware of potential challenges to those standards and striving to keep them strong.

Nor is every organic product necessarily certified. A lot of money and red tape is involved, which can provide a real disincentive to small growers in particular. Think about a local family who sells organic produce grown in their garden at a roadside stand or local farmers’ market. For them, it’s probably not worth the headache to get certified, but their food is still organic.

If your community has a farmers’ market, make sure to check it out. Such markets are typically a great source for organic food and products of all kinds. Even if a particular farm’s food isn’t certified organic, you can actually talk to the farmer and ask questions you have about how the food was raised.

There are plenty of farmer’s market directories online to help you find a market near you. Here are a few Texas-centric guides to get you started:

Outside of Texas? Local Harvest is a great starting point for sourcing all manner of real food close to home.

Next week, we’ll take a closer look at GMOs…

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