What does organic mean?

Connecting Gate to Plate Blog

What does organic mean?


       There is no singular right way to raise food. There is no singular right way to purchase food.  The good news? There’s a solid system in place to protect you whether you buy organic or conventional food.

         Organic farming is a food production process. It is defined by the USDA and producers who want to use the USDA organic label on their food must be certified. They have comply with federal regulations, just as conventional producers do. Both types of farmers must follow rules for safe production practices. Both care for the soil. Both organic and conventional foods are inspected. Both control pests. Both types of production are regulated and monitored for safety when it comes to levels of chemicals, pesticides and antibiotics.

         The organic crop production standards require that:

  •  Land must have had no prohibited substances applied to it for at least three years before the harvest of an organic crop.
  • Soil fertility and crop nutrients will be managed through tillage and cultivation practices, crop rotations and cover crops, supplemented with animal and crop waste materials and allowed synthetic materials.
  • Crop pests, weeds, and diseases will be controlled primarily through management practices including physical, mechanical, and biological controls. When these practices are not sufficient, a biological, botanical, or synthetic substance approved for use on the National List may be used.

         Some of the botanical and mineral-based pesticides allowed in organic production include nicotine sulfate, sulfur, sabidilla, neem and lime sulfur – which have varying levels of toxicity, the same as chemicals used in conventional farming. A complete list of synthetic substances allowed in the National Organic Program can be found at the “Electronic Code of Federal Regulations” at the U.S. Government Publishing Office.

         Do you assume foods not labeled organic are less nutritious and may even contain harmful chemicals, pesticides and antibiotics? Research shows otherwise.

         I was speaking at a food conference, where dietitians questioned the sustainability of organic as compared to conventional farming. They were surprised to learn organic produce can have pesticides used. These healthcare professionals also seemed shocked to learn the difference in productivity and potential implications of organic’s lower yield requiring more land. Sustainability in food production is far more complex than only looking at a single factor, such as pesticides.

         Don’t get me wrong; I support organic farmers and believe they have a right to choose the best market for their family. Organic foods have gained popularity; there is a clear perception that organic foods are safer and more nutritious. Again, I question the science, and ask how much is marketing? At the end of the day, your fruit selection comes down to choice.  All fruits have chemicals in them, raised with some sort of pest protection – and are nutritious. You choose what is right for your family; that’s a decision that should not be driven by guilt. The good news is that we have choice; you can likely find food to fit whatever philosophy you want.

Read more at  Food Truths from Farm to Table to arm yourself with 25 truths you urgently need to know about food so you can shop without guilt, confusion, or judgment. A new book, Food Bullying, releases November 5 to upend the way you think about eating choices.

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