18 March, 2012

The Abuse of The Word "Organic"

Photo Credit Ralph Baleno/Istock/Photo Illustration

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is seen as the most reassuring seal of approval that whatever you are buying is organic. However, the meaning of the word organic in the food industry has been abused and morphed into having a different meaning. The USDA Organic Seal is given to foods that conatin at least 95% organic ingredients. Here is a time line showing how the meaning of "organic" has changed over the years.

1972:  Robert Rodale, editor of Organic Gardening & Farming magazine.
"Food grown without pesticides; grown without artificial fertilizers; grown in soil whose humus content is increased by the additions of organic matter, grown in soil whose mineral content is increased by the application of natural mineral fertilizers; has not been treated with preservatives, hormones, antibiotics, etc."
1980: USDA scientists.
"The organic movement represents a spectrum of practices, attitudes, and philosophies. On the one hand are those organic practitioners who would not use chemical fertilizers or pesticides under any circumstances. These producers hold rigidly to their purist philosophy. At the other end of the spectrum, organic farmers espouse a more flexible approach. While striving to avoid the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, these practitioners do not rule them out entirely. Instead, when absolutely necessary, some fertilizers and also herbicides are very selectively and sparingly used as a second line of defense. Nevertheless, these farmers, too, consider themselves to be organic farmers."
1997 Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman.
"What is organic? Generally, it is agriculture produced through a natural as opposed to synthetic process. The natural portion of the definition is fairly obvious, but process is an equally critical distinction. When we certify organic, we are certifying not just a product but the farming and handling practices that yield it. When you buy a certified organic tomato, for instance, you are buying the product of an organic farm. And, consumers are willing to fork over a little more for that tomato. They've shown that they will pay a premium for organic food. National standards are our way of ensuring that consumers get what they pay for."
"No distinctions should be made between organically and non-organically produced products in terms of quality, appearance, or safety."
So the USDA is not saying that the products they put a seal on are actually safe, healthier, or extremely different than any other products. It doesn't mean better quality either. The price is only higher for USDA Sealed foods because it contains the word organic and people automatically assume that it has a better quality than regular food. So next time you see the USDA Seal on any food product, think twice about what that seal is really worth!

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