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The Organic Explainer

The organic foods movement promotes the health of humans and their environment by encouraging farmers to use agricultural methods that neither deplete the soil nor hurt environmental systems or farmworkers. Organic farming also promotes biological diversity and the recycling of resources through such methods as crop rotation, rotational grazing, planting of cover crops, intercropping, animal and plant waste recycling, tilling, and adding minerals to crops.

What does the term "certified organic" mean?
Although the basic definition of "organic" is "living", the National Organic Standards Board defined "certified organic" at their meeting in April 1995 as follows:

"Organic" is a labeling term that denotes products produced under the authority of the Organic Foods Production Act. The principal guidelines for organic production are to use materials and practices that enhance the ecological balance of natural systems and that integrate the parts of the farming system into an ecological whole.

Organic agriculture practices cannot ensure that products are completely free of residues; however, methods are used to minimize pollution from air, soil and water. Organic food handlers, processors and retailers adhere to standards that maintain the integrity of organic agricultural products. The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people."

Visit the Organic Trading and Information Center for more information on federal and state organic standards.

How is organic produce certified?
Farmers must grow produce for three years without the application of synthetic pesticides or chemicals. The farm, its equipment, and any processing facilities are inspected by an independent agency unaffiliated with the grower, the processor or the vendor, and are then issued a certificate from that agency certifying the farm's produce as "organic."

Can meat be certified "organic"?
Livestock can be certified "organic" if they have been raised on organic feedstuffs (grains and other products grown under certified organic conditions) for at least a year.

Why is organic produce more expensive than the other kind?
Organic produce, since it is grown without synthetic pesticides or chemicals, is more labor-intensive. Organic crop yields are often not as high as those grown under non-organic conditions, and fewer farmers (only about 4%) use organic methods and sustainable agriculture practices; therefore the price of organically grown produce reflects the greater demands placed on the grower.

Is organically grown produce healthier than other produce?
Certified organic produce is not essentially healthier than produce that has been grown under non-organic conditions -- the nutritional content of a particular vegetable doesn't change. But the lack of synthetic pesticidal residues on organically grown produce definitely makes for a safer product.

The following sites promote sustainable agriculture practices, the use of natural pesticides, and seed and plant biodiversity:

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