**This article was contributed by SPQR Cincinattus**
Organic products are becoming increasingly popular and make up about five percent of the total food
market. Last year sales of organic foods and non-food products sold a total of thirty-nine billion dollars’
worth and increased more than ten percent. Organic products also provide farmers a higher sales price
which can be an incentive to convert a conventional farm to an organic one.
So what does “organic” actually mean? Rather, what does “USDA certified organic” mean? Essentially
the United States Department of Agriculture certifies a product as organic if it was grown and processed
in accordance with federal guidelines. These guidelines address factors such as the use of pesticides, soil
quality, animal raising practices, and use of additives. Producers of organic foods are not allowed to use
pesticides that are synthetic and must instead use pesticides derived from natural sources. Organic
pesticides are far less numerous than conventional pesticides, so organic producers must also make use
of physical, mechanical and biological control methods as well.
Genetically modified organisms, often referred to as “GMOs”, are prohibited from use in organic
products. A GMO is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering
techniques; these often include some genetic material for another organism.
A substantial challenge for converting from conventional farming practices to organic is the three year
period required to make the conversion. This three year period requires that no prohibited substances
can be applied for three years prior to harvest. Prohibited substances include most synthetic fertilizers
as well as synthetic pesticides. In instances where an organic grower must use a synthetic substance that
substance must be first approved according to criteria that analyze its effects on human health and the
environment. An example of an allowed synthetic substance would be an insect pheromone, which was
created in a lab, to be used for disrupting a pest insect’s normal activity, thus decreasing the damage
they cause to a crop.
Organic meat production, much like organic plant products, also has stringent regulations. These
regulations require that animals must be raised in living conditions that accommodates their natural
behaviors, such as grazing on an organic pasture, their feed must be 100% organic, and cannot be given
antibiotics or hormones.
When it comes to processed foods, which contain multiple ingredients, the USDA organic standards
allow some considerations. Organically processed foods are prohibited from containing artificial
preservatives, flavors, or colors. All ingredients and additives are required to be organic, however some
exceptions do apply. Ingredients such as enzymes in yogurt, pectin in jams, or baking soda in baked
goods are allowed in organic foods.
Keep these definitions and specifications in mind when making the determination if organic products are right for you.