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Organics 101

January 25, 2011

For years now, we’ve been hearing the term “organic,” especially when it comes to produce. Often times, people will say you should always buy organic if possible.  But do you really know what organic means? Is it based on someone’s opinion? And can anyone call their product organic or does it have to be inspected first? I did some research on organics with my handy dandy internet connection and here’s what I found:

First, let’s look at how the USDA defines organic agriculture.

“Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony.”

If you’re still a little foggy from that definition, I found a less-scientific one in a consumer brochure they made:

“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.”

Ahh, okay. That sounds better. To put it in my own words, it’s something that is grown naturally (there are a few substances that aren’t prohibited, though). The Secretary of Agriculture sets the list of what is ok to use and not ok to use in organic farming.

So, how does something get called organic?

“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.”

So while someone may say they are an organic producer, they have to be inspected and approved to actually be considered USDA certified organic. There’s a label that says “USDA Organic” that producers have the option of using. Keep in mind that it is not required that they use the label, and products may be organic without bearing the label. Oh, and keep in mind that the term “natural” does not automatically equal organic.

We get this question a lot at our office so I thought I’d touch on it quickly. How can I become a certified organic producer?

The Florida Organic Growers is a good resource, offering a wide range of information on how to become an organic grower. Once you are ready to become certified, Quality Certification Services certifies organic producers in Florida.

Do you buy organic goods? Is there anything else you want to know about organics?

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