What Does Organic Food Certification Really Mean?
by Jeanette Joy Fisher

In 2000, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) established what were supposed
to be clear guidelines for gaining organic certification, but various ambiguous areas
will continue to confuse consumers until those guidelines are made even more clear.
For instance, under USDA rules, growers of fruits, vegetables, meat, and milk are
forbidden from using most synthetic pesticides or fertilizer in food production. They're
also prohibited from using genetic engineering, irradiation, or sewage sludge. To be
certified organic, livestock must be fed nothing but certified organic feed and can't be
given any sort of growth hormone. They must also be allowed to be outside at least
a portion of every day, though the rules for what that actually means have been
open to serious dispute over the past few years.

The USDA guidelines were meant to be fairly all-inclusive, but there are a number of
gradients, as well. Here are some of the labels you'll see in your local co-op or
supermarket:100% organic: For produce, this designation means that fruits or
vegetables were grown completely without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. In the
case of meat or milk, it means that all the USDA stipulations concerning hormones,
feed, and time spent outdoors were met.Organic: This type of produce or meat
doesn't quite meet the highest organic standard, but the remaining 5 percent of its
ingredients have been approved for organic use by a nationwide certification
organization called the National Organics Standards Board.Made with organic
ingredients: This certification assures consumers that no less than 70 percent of the
produce, milk, or meat was produced using organic ingredients.

The last two other labels you'll see are considerably more ambiguous. First, there's
the term "free-range," which is used interchangeably with the term "cage-free." The
USDA regulates the use of either term when it comes to poultry, but not to eggs,
and there’s no clear definition of how much outdoor access animals should receive.
The other term is "natural," which has no real meaning in any food commodity other
than meat and poultry, which can't have any artificial coloring, chemical
preservatives, or ingredients. Although it's supposed to have only minimal
processing, there's no certification process that meat or poultry producers must
comply with in order to place the term on their labels. As the market continues to
grow, you'll be seeing these labels more and more. What remains to be seen is if the
USDA will tighten or loosen the process in order to allow producers to meet the
growing demand for organic products.
Copyright © 2006

About The Author

teaches environmental interior design. For more information about
Environmental Psychology and 5 ways you can change your home environment, visit
The term "organic" is being tossed
around quite a bit lately, and you'll
soon be seeing a big jump in the
number of organic choices when you
visit your local Safeway or Wal-Mart
store. That's because the demand for
organic produce, milk, and meat has
been steadily increasing, to the point
where the giant retail chains have
begun to take the trend seriously. In
turn, there will be a growing concern
over the certification process as
factory-style farms begin to muscle
their way into the organic food
market as a result of increased
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