The word “organic” may appear on packages of meat, cartons of milk or eggs, cheese and other single-ingredient foods. Certified organic requires the rejection of synthetic agrochemicals, irradiation and genetically engineered foods or ingredients. Literally, of course, the term is a redundancy: all food is composed of organic chemicals (complex chemicals containing carbon). Any materials used in the production or processing of organic food must be proven safe. Awareness is growing about the value of organic foods. But, whether the organic chicken or pesticide-free lettuce represents “healthier” alternatives has long been a subject for debate.
Organic farming is one of the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. Gardening organically is much more than what you don’t do. In fact, sales of organics have surged more than 20 percent each year in the past decade. In terms of the number of farms, acreage, and value of production, the organic food industry is growing at a rate of 20-30% per year. As commodity programs are eliminated, more farmers have discovered that organic production is a legitimate and economically viable alternative enterprise. The growth in the number of organic farmers has increased steadily, similar to the growth of the U.S.
In current organic production systems, growers are not permitted to use conventional synthetic organic fungicides in their disease management programs. Non-organic milk comes from farms that are allowed to use genetically modified cattle feed, along with routine antibiotic treatments and synthetic pesticides. Arguments have long raged as to the effects these hormones and chemicals have on the bioproducts. Growth hormones in cows, pesticides on produce and antibiotics in poultry are among the reasons many Americans are turning to organic foods.
Organically raised animals may not be given growth hormones to or antibiotics for any reason. Producers are required to feed livestock agricultural feed products that are 100 percent organic, but farmers may also provide allowed vitamin and mineral supplements.
The US Department of Agriculture finally put in place a national system for labeling organic food. The new federal rule guarantees you, the consumer, organic products that are grown without toxic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. Pesticides derived from natural sources (such as biological pesticides) may be used in producing organically grown food. Limitations in relation to which pesticides may or may not be used, present the organic grower with some unique and very demanding challenges. Food that is at least 70 percent organic will list the organic ingredients on the front of the package. More than 40 private organizations and state agencies (certifiers) currently certify organic food, but their standards for growing and labeling organic food may differ. Even with these labeling rules in place, consumers should be prepared for some confusion when shopping for organic foods. For one thing, organic products are not uniformly labeled because many farmers using organic methods do not pursue certification at all. In addition, the language contained in seals, labels, and logos approved by organic certifiers may differ.
While consumers struggle with the fact that often, the availability of organic materials is limited when large quantities are needed. More and more people have come to appreciate the added dimensions of value and quality available in the organic marketplace.