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May 1996
What is Organic?

Answers to the Most Frequently Asked Questions about Organic Produce

1. What is organic food?
Organic refers not only to food itself, but to how it is produced. Organic food production is based on a system of farming that maintains and replenishes the fertility of the soil. Organic foods are produced without the use of toxic pesticides and fertilizers. Organic foods are minimally processed to maintain the integrity of the food without the use of artificial ingredients, preservatives or irradiation.

2. How is "certified organic" food different from other organic food?
"Certified" means that the food has been grown according to strict uniform standards which are verified by independent state or private organizations. Certification includes inspections of farm fields and processing facilities, detailed record keeping, and periodic testing of soil and water to ensure that growers and handlers are meeting the standards.

3. Who regulates the "certified organic" claims?
The federal government set standards for the production, processing and certification of organic food in the Organic Food Production Act of 1990. A National Organic Standards Board was established at that time and now is developing the guidelines and procedures which will regulate all food from produce, grains, meat, dairy and eggs, to processed foods.

4. Is organic food completely free of pesticide residues?
Organic food is not produced with toxic pesticides and fertilizers. However, there are some instances where residues may be carried to organic fields from neighboring conventional farms or airborne pollution.

5. Do organic farmers ever use pesticides?
Yes. However, only non-toxic pesticides are permitted, with restrictions, as a last resort when growers are threatened with crop failure. Organic farmers’ primary strategy is "prevention." By building healthy soils, healthy plants are better able to resist disease and insects. When pest populations get out of balance, growers will try various options like insect predators, mating disruption, traps and barriers. If these fail, permission will be granted by the certifier to apply botanical or other non-toxic pesticides under restricted conditions. "Botanicals" are derived from plants and are broken down quickly by oxygen and sunlight.

6. Is organic food better for you?
There is no conclusive evidence to suggest that organically produced food is more nutritious. However, well-balanced soils grow strong healthy plants which many believe contain more nutrients and taste better. Many restaurant chefs across the country are using organic produce because they think it tastes better. Organic growers often select varieties to grow for their flavor, not only their appearance.

7. Why does organic food cost more?
Prices for organic foods reflect many of the same costs as conventional foods in terms of growing, harvesting, transportation and storage. Organically produced foods must meet stricter regulations governing all these steps so the process is often more labor and management intensive, and farming tends to be on a smaller scale. There is also mounting evidence that if all the indirect costs of conventional food production (cleanup of polluted water, replacement of eroded soils, costs of health care for farmers and their workers exposed to pesticides) were factored into the price of food, organic foods would cost the same, or, more likely, be cheaper.

8. Isn’t organic food just a fad?
Not a chance. Sales of organic food totaled $1.9 billion in 1993, and the market has grown at an average rate of 25% each year. The adoption of national standards for certification will open up many new markets for U.S. organic producers. Today, approximately 1% of the U.S. food supply is grown using organic methods. By the year 2000, analysts expect that to reach 10%. Worldwide, there are now almost 600 organic producer associations in 70 countries. Nations like Japan and Germany are fast becoming important international organic food markets.



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