What Does Organic Truly Mean?
What does the term ORGANIC mean to you? To me, it means a product that doesn't have pesticides, additional hormones or anything added to it. It means that I am getting a product that is as nature intended it, pure and free from man's manipulation.
What does "Organic" Mean?
Well, according to organic.org, basically, plants are grown without pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. Animals do not take growth hormones or antibiotics if they produce meat, eggs, and dairy products. However, organic is a little misleading.
The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) defines organic as follows:
"Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled “organic,” a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too." (organic.org)
According to the USDA, "USDA certified organic foods are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing, among many factors, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible." What happens when it isn't possible? Is it still considered organic?
For meat, it is required that animals be raised in living conditions like they normally would be in nature. They need to have the ability to graze in a pasture, receive organic feed and not receive antibiotics or hormones. (1)
Regulations prohibit processed foods with multiple ingredients from containing artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors and require all the ingredients are organic. (1)
"When packaged products indicate they are “made with organic [specific ingredient or food group],” this means they contain at least 70% organically produced ingredients. The remaining non-organic ingredients are produced without using prohibited practices (genetic engineering, for example) but can include substances that would not otherwise be allowed in 100% organic products. “Made with organic” products will not bear the USDA organic seal, but, as with all other organic products, must still identify the USDA-accredited certifier. You can look for the identity of the certifier on a packaged product for verification that the organic product meets USDA’s organic standards." (1) I just did a search of this and wikipedia claims 95% needs to be organic. That doesn't seem to be the case according to the USDA. 30% of a product doesn't need to be organic to be "made with organic," written on a package. It just won't bear the logo. It seems a bit misleading. In order to bear the logo, 95% of the product needs to be organic. The remaining 5% can only be foods, or be processed with additives on an approved list. What? Additives? Did you see the paragraph above this one, where it states all ingredients must be organic? Confused yet?
Ok, so I started to do some more digging. I truly wanted to know what is allowed and what isn't in an organic product. According to the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations, you can see that there are some synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production. See below.
"§205.600 Evaluation criteria for allowed and prohibited substances, methods, and ingredients.
The following criteria will be utilized in the evaluation of substances or ingredients for the organic production and handling sections of the National List:
(a) Synthetic and nonsynthetic substances considered for inclusion on or deletion from the National List of allowed and prohibited substances will be evaluated using the criteria specified in the Act (7 U.S.C. 6517 and 6518).
(b) In addition to the criteria set forth in the Act, any synthetic substance used as a processing aid or adjuvant will be evaluated against the following criteria:
(1) The substance cannot be produced from a natural source and there are no organic substitutes;
(2) The substance's manufacture, use, and disposal do not have adverse effects on the environment and are done in a manner compatible with organic handling;
(3) The nutritional quality of the food is maintained when the substance is used, and the substance, itself, or its breakdown products do not have an adverse effect on human health as defined by applicable Federal regulations;
(4) The substance's primary use is not as a preservative or to recreate or improve flavors, colors, textures, or nutritive value lost during processing, except where the replacement of nutrients is required by law;
(5) The substance is listed as generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) when used in accordance with FDA's good manufacturing practices (GMP) and contains no residues of heavy metals or other contaminants in excess of tolerances set by FDA; and
(6) The substance is essential for the handling of organically produced agricultural products.
(c) Nonsynthetics used in organic processing will be evaluated using the criteria specified in the Act (7 U.S.C. 6517 and 6518).
§205.601 Synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production.
In accordance with restrictions specified in this section, the following synthetic substances may be used in organic crop production: Provided, That, use of such substances do not contribute to contamination of crops, soil, or water. Substances allowed by this section, except disinfectants and sanitizers in paragraph (a) and those substances in paragraphs (c), (j), (k), and (l) of this section, may only be used when the provisions set forth in §205.206(a) through (d) prove insufficient to prevent or control the target pest.
(a) As algicide, disinfectants, and sanitizer, including irrigation system cleaning systems.
(2) Chlorine materials—For pre-harvest use, residual chlorine levels in the water in direct crop contact or as water from cleaning irrigation systems applied to soil must not exceed the maximum residual disinfectant limit under the Safe Drinking Water Act, except that chlorine products may be used in edible sprout production according to EPA label directions.
(i) Calcium hypochlorite.
(ii) Chlorine dioxide.
(iii) Sodium hypochlorite.
(3) Copper sulfate—for use as an algicide in aquatic rice systems, is limited to one application per field during any 24-month period. Application rates are limited to those which do not increase baseline soil test values for copper over a timeframe agreed upon by the producer and accredited certifying agent.
(4) Hydrogen peroxide.
(5) Ozone gas—for use as an irrigation system cleaner only.
(6) Peracetic acid—for use in disinfecting equipment, seed, and asexually propagated planting material. Also permitted in hydrogen peroxide formulations as allowed in §205.601(a) at concentration of no more than 6% as indicated on the pesticide product label.
(7) Soap-based algicide/demossers.
(8) Sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate (CAS #-15630-89-4)—Federal law restricts the use of this substance in food crop production to approved food uses identified on the product label.
(b) As herbicides, weed barriers, as applicable.
(1) Herbicides, soap-based—for use in farmstead maintenance (roadways, ditches, right of ways, building perimeters) and ornamental crops.
(i) Newspaper or other recycled paper, without glossy or colored inks.
(ii) Plastic mulch and covers (petroleum-based other than polyvinyl chloride (PVC)).
(iii) Biodegradable biobased mulch film as defined in §205.2. Must be produced without organisms or feedstock derived from excluded methods.
(c) As compost feedstocks—Newspapers or other recycled paper, without glossy or colored inks.
(d) As animal repellents—Soaps, ammonium—for use as a large animal repellant only, no contact with soil or edible portion of crop.
(e) As insecticides (including acaricides or mite control).
(1) Ammonium carbonate—for use as bait in insect traps only, no direct contact with crop or soil.
(2) Aqueous potassium silicate (CAS #-1312-76-1)—the silica, used in the manufacture of potassium silicate, must be sourced from naturally occurring sand.
(3) Boric acid—structural pest control, no direct contact with organic food or crops.
(4) Copper sulfate—for use as tadpole shrimp control in aquatic rice production, is limited to one application per field during any 24-month period. Application rates are limited to levels which do not increase baseline soil test values for copper over a timeframe agreed upon by the producer and accredited certifying agent.
(5) Elemental sulfur.
(6) Lime sulfur—including calcium polysulfide.
(7) Oils, horticultural—narrow range oils as dormant, suffocating, and summer oils.
(8) Soaps, insecticidal.
(9) Sticky traps/barriers.
(10) Sucrose octanoate esters (CAS #s—42922-74-7; 58064-47-4)—in accordance with approved labeling.
(f) As insect management. Pheromones.
(g) As rodenticides. Vitamin D3.
(h) As slug or snail bait. Ferric phosphate (CAS # 10045-86-0).
(i) As plant disease control.
(1) Aqueous potassium silicate (CAS #-1312-76-1)—the silica, used in the manufacture of potassium silicate, must be sourced from naturally occurring sand.
(2) Coppers, fixed—copper hydroxide, copper oxide, copper oxychloride, includes products exempted from EPA tolerance, Provided, That, copper-based materials must be used in a manner that minimizes accumulation in the soil and shall not be used as herbicides.
(3) Copper sulfate—Substance must be used in a manner that minimizes accumulation of copper in the soil.
(4) Hydrated lime.
(5) Hydrogen peroxide.
(6) Lime sulfur.
(7) Oils, horticultural, narrow range oils as dormant, suffocating, and summer oils.
(8) Peracetic acid—for use to control fire blight bacteria. Also permitted in hydrogen peroxide formulations as allowed in §205.601(i) at concentration of no more than 6% as indicated on the pesticide product label.
(9) Potassium bicarbonate.
(10) Elemental sulfur.
(j) As plant or soil amendments.
(1) Aquatic plant extracts (other than hydrolyzed)—Extraction process is limited to the use of potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide; solvent amount used is limited to that amount necessary for extraction.
(2) Elemental sulfur.
(3) Humic acids—naturally occurring deposits, water and alkali extracts only.
(4) Lignin sulfonate—chelating agent, dust suppressant.
(5) Magnesium sulfate—allowed with a documented soil deficiency.
(6) Micronutrients—not to be used as a defoliant, herbicide, or desiccant. Those made from nitrates or chlorides are not allowed. Soil deficiency must be documented by testing.
(i) Soluble boron products.
(ii) Sulfates, carbonates, oxides, or silicates of zinc, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, and cobalt.
(7) Liquid fish products—can be pH adjusted with sulfuric, citric or phosphoric acid. The amount of acid used shall not exceed the minimum needed to lower the pH to 3.5.
(8) Vitamins, B1, C, and E.
(9) Sulfurous acid (CAS # 7782-99-2) for on-farm generation of substance utilizing 99% purity elemental sulfur per paragraph (j)(2) of this section.
(k) As plant growth regulators. Ethylene gas—for regulation of pineapple flowering.
(l) As floating agents in postharvest handling. Sodium silicate—for tree fruit and fiber processing.
(m) As synthetic inert ingredients as classified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for use with nonsynthetic substances or synthetic substances listed in this section and used as an active pesticide ingredient in accordance with any limitations on the use of such substances.
(1) EPA List 4—Inerts of Minimal Concern.
(2) EPA List 3—Inerts of unknown toxicity—for use only in passive pheromone dispensers.
(n) Seed preparations. Hydrogen chloride (CAS # 7647-01-0)—for delinting cotton seed for planting.
(o) As production aids. Microcrystalline cheesewax (CAS #'s 64742-42-3, 8009-03-08, and 8002-74-2)-for use in log grown mushroom production. Must be made without either ethylene-propylene co-polymer or synthetic colors." (2)
That list contains A LOT of things that are not beneficial to our health! And yet it's approved to be organic. We pay higher prices for this certification.
To be certified organic you cannot grow anything in soil that has had a prohibited substance applied to it for at least 3 years. (1) Did you see the list of approved substances above? I am not an expert, but I saw some on that list that made me go hmmm....... They also state "Provided, That, use of such substances do not contribute to contamination of crops, soil, or water. Substances allowed by this section, except disinfectants and sanitizers." How and where do their clean their equipment so that the soil isn't tainted with such products?
How long does a pesticide last in the soil?
Well, according to gmoanswers.com, Response from Wayne Parrott, Professor, Crop Breeding and Genetics, University of Georgia · Friday, 4/01/2016 8:24 pm, "Pesticides such as herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides vary in the amount of time they break down in the environment by the specific pesticide, the rate applied, and environmental conditions. We measure how long pesticides persist in the environment by a measure called half-life or how long it takes the original material to be reduced by 50%. Under most situations we would encounter in an agricultural setting, a pesticide half-life can range from a few hours to 4-5 years. Most pesticides are broken down by microbes in the soil, so environmental conditions that reduce microbial activity (cold, dry conditions) will extend pesticide remaining in the soil. In general, the trend is for the newer pesticides to last far less than those used decades ago (eg, DDT). In some parts of the world, copper-based fungicides are still used, and these will last forever in the soil, for all practical intents and purposes." The "half-life" may be useful in measuring how long a pesticide may last, but studies have found such a wide range of half-lives for the same pesticide under different environmental conditions, no one accurately know exactly how long they last. So for some areas and products, 3 years may be ok as a unit of time to remove unwanted things from the soil, where in other areas it is NOT long enough.
What does GRAS mean?
We see this term thrown around a lot. As an aromatherapist this statement above alarms me. "The substance is listed as generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by Food and Drug Administration (FDA)." Essential oils have a GRAS status, which makes them approved for internal use since they won't kill you if used properly. I know better. I know that things can be GRAS even when they shouldn't be. Just to name a couple, phthalates, caramel coloring, and over 1,000 other things! To determine whether a substance is GRAS, companies are allowed to choose their own panel of experts that conclude whether the ingredient will pose harm when used as intended. Taken directly from the FDA.gov website "In a step to strengthen its oversight of food ingredients, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration today issued a final rule detailing the criteria for concluding that the use of a substance in human or animal food is “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). Unlike food additives, GRAS substances are not subject to FDA pre-market approval; however, they must meet the same safety standards as approved food additives. The rule addresses the types of scientific evidence that can be used to demonstrate safety as well as the role of publications in evaluating whether the scientific evidence of safety is “generally available and accepted.” The GRAS criteria require that the safe use of ingredients in human and animal food be widely recognized by the appropriate qualified experts. The final rule also formalizes the voluntary GRAS notification procedure, which was originally established under an interim policy and pilot program for human food in 1997 and animal food in 2010. The FDA strongly encourages companies to inform the agency of GRAS conclusions through the notification procedure finalized with today’s rule." Isn't that like letting the fox in the hen house?
I always thought the term organic made them superior and worth the price. In an study published in the American College of Physicians, dated September 4, 2012, titled Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?: A Systematic Review , "The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria." You are not necessarily getting more nutritious foods, but may be getting less exposure to pesticides and bacteria. From the list above, I am not so sure. At least you know it won't be loaded with Round up (hopefully).
As you can see, the "rules" for organic certification were take directly from the USDA's website. I can honestly say I was expecting the organic label to mean a lot more.
What are your thoughts on organic products? Do you buy them or will you continue to? Please send any questions you may have to firstname.lastname@example.org. If I can, I will answer them. We try and grow all out own produce when we can and seek out local CSA farmers when available. Have a wonderful day!
Love and light, Melissa
(1) McEvoy, Miles, National Organic Program Deputy Administrator in Health and Safety. "Organic 101: What the USDA Organic Label Means". Mar 22, 2012 https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2012/03/22/organic-101-what-usda-organic-label-means