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
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
4. Is organic food completely free of pesticide
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,
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.