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What Does Organic Mean?

By Maria Stevens, January 2010

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Outline:

-What Does Organic Mean: standards for produce; standards for meat, dairy, and eggs

 

-Conventional Food Production: Obscene Truths Of Conventional Food Production; what consumers should know about produce; what consumers should know about meat, dairy, and eggs

-How to Interpret a Label: Common Labelling; What To Look Out For

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WHAT DOES ORGANIC MEAN?

In General, Standards for Organic Produce:

The Organic Trust, Soil Association, and Organic Food Federation list the following standards for organic crops:

  • Land must have no prohibited substances applied to it for at least 3 years before the harvest of an organic crop.
  • Soil fertility and crop nutrients should be managed through tilling and cultivation practices, crop rotations, cover crops and supplemented with natural fertilizers (like manure and crop waste), and other allowable synthetic materials.[1]
  • Crop pests, weeds and diseases should be controlled through physical, mechanical and biological controls. Under exceptional circumstances, when these practices are not sufficient, a biological, botanical or synthetic substance from the certification body’s list may be used.
  • Preference will be given to the use of organic seeds and other planting stock, but a farmer may use non-organic seeds and planting stock under specified conditions.
  • Organic produce mush only be washed in drinkable water, and never be washed in the same water used for conventional produce.
  • The use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), ionizing radiation and sewage sludge is prohibited. (The Soil Association is highly specific about its prohibition of GMOs; the EC permits up to 0.9% GMO content in organic products).

Standards for Meat, Dairy, and Eggs:

The Organic Trust, The Soil Association, and the Organic Food Federation share specific standards for animal products labeled as organic:

  • Animals for slaughter must be raised under organic management from the last third of gestation, or no later than the third day of life for poultry.
  • Farmers must feed livestock agricultural feed products that are 100% organic, but may also provide certain vitamin and mineral supplements. Grazing fields cannot be treated with prohibited substances for a minimum of three years.
  • Dairy animals must be managed organically for at least 6 months in order for milk or dairy products to be sold, labeled or represented as organic.
  • Organically raised animals must not be given hormones like RBGH to promote growth, or antibiotics as a preventative tool. Only in exceptional cases may an animal be treated with antibiotics for a specific ailment, under the supervision of a veterinarian.
  • The use of vaccines can only be used to keep animals healthy. Producers cannot withhold treatment from a sick or injured animal, and animals treated with a prohibited medication may not be sold as organic.
  • All organically raised animals must have access to the outdoors, including access to pasture for ruminant animals like cows and goats. Animals may not be kept in cages. They may be temporarily confined only for reasons of health, safety, the animal’s stage of production, or to protect soil or water quality.
  • All organically raised animals are housed in accordance to humane regulations, to ensure each animal’s ability to engage in natural social groups, as well as to ensure sufficient space for natural movements such as wing flapping, turning, and lying down.
  • Housing units of organically raised animals should include insulation, heating, and ventilation that ensures air circulation, dust level, temperature, relative air humidity and gas concentration are kept within limits, so as to ensure animals’ health.
  • Organically raised animals are not goaded, shocked, or subjected to cruel and violent treatment when corralled for slaughter.[2]

 

CONVENTIONAL FOOD PRODUCTION

The Obscene Truths of Industrial Food:

After reading the standards of organic food, consumers may not be surprised by the quality conveyed by an organic logo. It would seem that an organic logo represents common-sense food production practices, but this is simply not the case.

  • The industrial food industry goes to great lengths to keep a veil over their production practices, and keep consumers in the dark.
  • These practices confer numerous externalities, the costs of which fall on consumers in the long-run.

What Consumers Should Know About Conventional Produce:

  • Widespread use of the best-growing conventional seeds allow for only a very narrow selection of edible plants on the market. This lack of variety is a product of monoculture, which is a high-risk system compared to a system which promotes biodiversity. Monoculture crops are highly susceptible to disease, pests, and rapid wipe-outs.
  • Chemical herbicides (the most famous of which is The Monsanto Corporation’s Roundup), fungicides, and pesticides are sprayed heavily and repeatedly over crops to control for weeds and pests. Over time, these non-biodegradable compounds collect in and poison the eco-system. In humans, flora, and fauna, numerous aberrations, from reproduction problems, dermatological conditions, illnesses, and even death are documented annually. Compounds are found in high concentrations on the surface of food, even after the food is washed. These compounds are eaten directly by consumers, and concentrations found in human tissue increase over time. Longitudinal studies are still being conducted, but scientists fear these compounds (along with numerous other inputs resulting from our modern way of life) may contribute to illnesses such as cancer.
  • Soil fertility is supplemented by petroleum-based chemical fertilizers, and animal slurry (often sourced from factory farms, which are breeding grounds for virulent diseases). The use of fossil fuels to grow cash crops is counter-intuitive, particularly since the surpluses from cash crops are frequently converted into bio-fuels in attempts to alleviate dependence on petroleum.
  • The higher, unnatural, chemical-aided yields of conventional crops distort the price of food. Surpluses flood markets, and make it almost impossible for small, local, and organic crops to compete, particularly in developing regions. This phenomenon destroys the way of life for countless farmers in the developing world; conventional industrial food production is an institution which prevents small-time ascent in the economic farm world, due to heavy reliance on inputs such as chemical sprays, fertilizers, and machinery.
  • Conventional produce is typically picked unripe, then a gassed or irradiated to achieve ripeness for the time of sale. Unnaturally ripened fruit is not as nutritionally dense as naturally ripened food.
  • Conventional produce is almost always less nutritious than organic, sustainable produce. Nutrient-poor food leaves the body wanting, and promotes overeating to compensate for nutrient deficiencies.
  • In the United States, several countries in Europe, and numerous countries around the world, there is widespread use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). GMO seeds are fundamentally new bio-technology. They are scarcely tested, and their long-term effects on the environment and human health are unknown. GMOs, legally qualified as substantially similar in the United States, do not produce similar plant phenotypes. When GMO plants cross-breed with natural plants, grotesque plant hybrids are produced. GMO have the potential to contaminate and overrun surrounding environments, and have done so already in many areas. They threaten current biodiversity. While GMOs are purported to be adventitious to humans by contributing the the world food supply, their genome’s are patented and owned by companies. These companies demand royalties for their use and are rapidly monopolizing the seed market. These business practices threaten freedoms of world food production. The leading rights-holder for GMO seeds is Monsanto, which is a chemical company owning the rights to at least 20 plant species, Roundup (the world’s leading herbicide), other agricultural chemical compounds, rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone), and more. Monsanto owns and controls a large percentage of the entire industrial food system. In effect, because of Monsanto’s widespread ownership of the world’s leading agricultural inputs, they exert significant (and growing) control over world food production.
  • Although most GMOs are banned in the European Union, because of GMO contamination, the European Commission permits up to 0.9% GMO content in certified organic products.

What Consumers Should Know About Conventional Meat, Eggs, and Dairy:

  • Animals reared for eating are fed almost exclusively on non-organic cash crops, usually corn. The high levels of chemicals found in the feed concentrate in the tissue of the animal; the chemicals are then conveyed to humans when the flesh of these animals is eaten. A grain diet is particularly not suitable for cattle, which are ruminants and biologically designed to consume grass. Corn diets contribute heavily to the evolution of virulent strains of E.coli and other pathogens.
  • Animals are reared in very crowded housing conditions, which offer little to no comfort. Ventilation is normally poor; the ground is normally completely covered in faeces, urine, hair, or feathers; animals are often kept in cages which do not permit the animal to engage in natural movements, such as turning around or wing-flapping. Housing conditions act as incubators for virulent pathogens.
  • Because of crowded, fetid conditions, animals engage in behaviors demonstrative of anxiety, anger, and depression. Animals have a penchant for self-abuse, and the abuse of others (such as pecking, biting of tails, and fighting). In order to control these behaviors, many operations systematically cut off the tails, beaks, testicles, and horns of animals.
  • Because of the crowded, fetid conditions, disease that affects one animal can easily spread to the entire group. In order to control these behaviors, high concentrations of antibiotics are added to the feed and administered to the animals or prevent sickness. This contributes directly the to evolution of dangerous, potentially-lethal, antibiotic-resistant pathogens.
  • It is the industry standard in the United States to inject cattle and dairy animals with a potent growth hormone called rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) to increase milk and meat production. This hormone has been demonstrated to cause aberrations in the digestive track and tissues of its consumers, be identified as an alien substance in the immune system, and may contribute to cancer. This hormone causes fertility problems in dairy cattle, and infections of the mammary glands. Milk from these cows contains pus from infections, and concentrations of this hormone. Meat and dairy imported from the United States will almost certainly be produced with rBGH.
  • Animals being corralled for slaughter are frequently subjected to electrocution and violence. Many animals are too ill to make the trip, and are abused egregiously until the moment of death.
  • Animals are very quickly slaughtered in highly mechanized facilities. The speed of the system results in thousands of gallons of blood, urine, and faeces, covering work spaces and workers. Conveyor belts and processing machinery, when contaminated by one animal, can spread contamination to every subsequent animal processed. The industry addresses these problems not by correcting the system, but by adding a new high-tech solution, such as inundating meat in ammonia to kill bacteria. Factory workers frequently suffer infections from exposure to these substances.
  • Conventional meat contains higher concentrations of chemicals and pathogens than organic meat.
  • Waste products from concentrated animal feed lots contaminate neighborhoods and ecosystems in the area, resulting in untold levels of illness, destruction, and contamination of neighboring agricultural fields with virulent bacteria.

HOW TO INTERPRET A LABEL

Common Labelling:

Everyday products like cereal, potato chips and even canned soups can be produced organically. You’re likely to see these marketing labels on many processed products in the grocery store:

  • 100% organic
    Products with this label can contain only organically produced ingredients, with the exception of salt and water.
  • Organic
    Products with this label must consist of at least 95% organically produced ingredients, with the exception of salt and water. Any other ingredients must consist of agricultural products that can’t be produced organically in commercial form, or non-agricultural products that are on an approved certifying body’s list.[3]
  • Made with organic ingredients
    This label indicates that the product must contain at least 70% organic ingredients. Additionally, it can list up to three of the product’s organic ingredients or food groups on the front display of the product. For example, a container of trail mix might read “Made with organic raisins, walnuts, and grains.” This language indicates that items like honey, sugar, or other dried fruits used in the trail mix may or may not be organic.

Processed foods containing less than 70% organic ingredients can’t use the term organic on the packaging, but they can identify specific organic ingredients on the ingredient list.

Consumer Awareness and Power: All organic certification bodies require products to be clearly labeled with a certification number, production address, and country of origin. Certification bodies also stringently police product labels to ensure that they are not intentionally misleading to consumers with unquantifiable claims.

What To Look Out For:

Many conventional food companies rely on consumer ignorance to market their products:

  • The term “Organic” has already been defined above. Know, however, that a product may still be labeled as Organic without a certification from a respectable certifying body. Make sure to purchase items bearing an official logo.
  • “All Natural” is a vapid term. Natural is something than cannot be strictly defined by the law. Natural does not mean organic; it typically means no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives.
  • Ecoterms, likewise, are also abused. Examples include: free-range, green, antibiotic-free, hormone-free, 100% vegan, hypoallergenic, non-toxic, environmentally safe, cruelty-free, etc. Because of a complete lack of oversight on these claims, they have the potential to be absolutely meaningless. Always look for an organic logo to ensure adequate food integrity and honesty.  The use of logos such as “Suitable for Vegetarians,” “Fair Trade,” “GMO-Free,”[4] etc. have been approved by the certification body holding the rights to the logo, but in general, the claims are narrow in scope and should not suffice as a substitute for Organic. They do not come close.

ECO-LABELS and LOGOS

FAIR TRADE


UNITED KINGDOM, est. 1992

The FAIRTRADE Mark is a registered certification label for products sourced from producers in developing countries.

THE GREEN DOT

Greendot

EUROPE, est. 2000

The Green Dot is a Pan-European financial participation symbol.

The Dot signifies that the supplier of that packaging is financially contributing towards the cost of recovery and recycling of packaging waste in Ireland through Repak.  It is often confused with the recycling logo.


[1]The Organic Trust allows the use of household waste, and non-organic slurry (provided it is GMO-free). Both are potential sources of contamination. The Soil Association does not specify the allowance of non-organic slurry, and allows the use of household waste, provided it has been property composted first. The Organic Food Federation does not specify the allowance of non-organic slurry, but does specify that slurry cannot be sourced from factory farms; household waste must be properly composted before being applied.

[2] Only the Organic Trust specifies that systematic tail-docking, cutting of teeth, beak trimming, and de-horning are prohibited.

[3] “All agricultural ingredients are of organic origin, or up to five per cent by weight may be of non-organic origin if the ingredients of this latter 5% are contained in the list of agricultural ingredients recognized as not available as organic in the listings in the Processing section of these standards. (Note: The weight calculation is as at the mixing bowl stage).” – Organic Trust

[4] The verbiage “GMO-Free,” while a strict standard in superior certification bodies, is not an endorsed term, due to the risk of GMO contamination in all stages of production. Terms such as “Not produced with GMOs” are preferred.

 

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4 Responses to “What Does Organic Mean?”

  • Sylvia Sage:

    It’s a very well written article. So are your others. But it took me a while to figure out what organic produce mush is. I thought maybe it was some kind of organic cereal that needs to be washed.

  • being vegeterian helps me a lot in toning down my body fats and staying fit,.:

  • being vegetarian made me a lot healthier and leaner.;~

  • Youre so cool! I dont suppose Ive learn something like this before. So nice to find any individual with some unique thoughts on this subject. realy thanks for starting this up. this web site is something that’s wanted on the internet, someone with a bit of originality. helpful job for bringing one thing new to the internet!

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