• What is organic?

    Organic food is grown by farmers who use farming methods that strive for a balance with nature. Organic farmers focus on soil improvement and rely on biological systems to produce high quality food and reduce environmental impact. The "organic" food label identifies food grown with practices that:

    • Don't use synthetic pesticides, herbicides and soil fumigants.
    • Don't use genetic engineering
    • Don't use sewage sludge as fertilizer
    • Do improve the quality and fertility of the soil
    • Do protect water quality
    • Do reduce soil erosion
    • Do rely on natural biological systems for pest and weed control
    • Do reduce the impact of agriculture on our environment
    • Do produce high quality, great tasting food
  • Is organic food better for consumers and the environment?

    By eating organic foods, you limit your exposure to synthetic insecticides, fungicides and herbicides, because these chemicals are not applied to organic crops. By eating organic foods, you limit your intake of growth hormones and antibiotics, because organic meat and dairy farmers are prohibited from using hormones and antibiotics in organic livestock and dairy production. By eating organic, you also limit your intake of genetically modified foods because organic farmers cannot raise genetically modified crops or livestock or use production aids that are genetically modified.

    Organic farming methods help provide a safer, more healthy environment by: 1) not polluting our groundwater, rivers, lakes, and oceans with synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers; 2) reducing soil erosion; 3) improving soil quality; 4) increasing the diversity of wildlife on and near farms; and 5) Farm workers are not exposed to synthetic pesticides.

  • When I go to the supermarket, how can I tell organically produced food from conventionally produced food?

    On October 21, 2002, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) put into effect the National Organic Program ensuring consistency for all organic products marketed in the U.S. Along with the new standards, the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has developed strict labeling rules to help consumers know the exact organic content of the food they buy. The "USDA Organic" seal helps you find products that contain at least 95 percent certified organic ingredients.

    You'll find four labeling categories when looking for organic products in stores and markets:

    • 100 percent Organic: All of the product's content is certified organic. These products may display the USDA Organic seal on the label.
    • Organic: At least 95 percent of the product's content is certified organic. These products may also display the USDA Organic seal on the label. These products may contain some minor ingredients that are not certified organic, such as minerals and vitamins.
    • Made with Organic Ingredients: At least 70 percent of the product's content is certified organic. Up to three ingredients can be listed on the label with the phrase "made with organic _______."
    • Products containing less than 70 percent organic content may only identify the organic ingredients in the ingredient listing on the label.
  • Will I find the USDA Organic seal on all organic products?

    No. The use of the USDA Organic seal is voluntary. And the USDA Organic seal can only be used on products with at least 95 percent certified organic ingredients.

  • On what food products can the USDA Organic seal be displayed?

    The USDA Organic seal may appear on organic food products that contain at least 95 percent certified organic ingredients.

  • What are some key provisions of the national organic regulations?

    The national organic regulations:

    • prohibit the use of irradiation, sewage sludge, or genetically modified organisms in organic food production
    • reflect the National Organic Standards Board recommendations on the allowable materials for use by organic farmers, organic livestock producers, and organic processors
    • require organic farmers to demonstrate soil quality improvement
    • prohibit antibiotics and growth hormones in organic meat and poultry
    • require 100% organic feed for organic livestock
       
  • Do the terms "natural" and "organic" mean the same thing?

    No. According to the USDA, the terms "natural" and "organic" are not interchangeable. Only food labeled "organic" meets USDA's national organic standards. While other claims, such as "natural" "free-range," and "hormone-free," can still appear on food labels these terms should not be confused with "organic."

  • Should I be concerned about the safety of eating organic food?

    Certified organic farmers and processors follow strict food safety guidelines to assure safe and hygienic food production. All food producers, including organic farmers and processors, must comply with local, state and federal health standards. In addition to these health and safety standards, organic farmers and processors are also required to comply with the stringent requirements included in USDA's national organic regulations.

    These more stringent food standards include restrictions on application of raw manure to soil; organic audit trail requirement; organic farm plan requirement; organic handling plan requirement; prohibition of synthetic pesticide use; prohibition of GMO use; prohibition of food irradiation; and prohibition of chemical food processing methods.

  • What does the organic industry do to ensure safe and wholesome food production?

    Certified organic farmers and processors are inspected annually by an independent, USDA accredited certification agent. During the annual inspection, the certification agent verifies compliance with the national organic regulations and reviews the food safety practices of organic growers and processors. This helps assure that organic producers are in compliance with all local, state, and federal health standards and with the more stringent requirements included in the USDA's national organic regulations.

    For more detailed information on the USDA organic standards, visit the official USDA Web site at http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop. Contact the National Organic Program at 202-720-3252, or write them at:

    USDA-AMS-TM-NOP
    Room 4008 S. Bldg., Ag Stop 0268
    1400 Independence, SW
    Washington, DC 20250