Organic food is one of the fastest growing industries. You see the term “organic” everywhere these days. But it is important to really understand the difference between “organic,” “certified organic” and even terms like “all natural” which are often used interchangeably.
“Certified organic” is not a casual term. Certification means that a farm or producer has made a strict commitment to a set of operational guidelines. There are third party governmental and private certifying agencies that monitor and enforce these guidelines.
Here are some important concepts to understand.
What does “Organic” really mean?
Organic agriculture, in essence, is production management system that promotes ecological priority in areas such as biodiversity, biological cycles and soil activity, to name a few. Organic agriculture aims to use the minimal amount of off-farm inputs to grow food. Instead, management practices are used to respect, restore, maintain and enhance ecological health and harmony.
Therefore, anything that is labelled “organic,” means those products were produced with an adherence to those practices and standards. Farmers use renewable resources while conserving soil and water. Organic food is free of conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering (GMO); or ionizing radiation. These farms, along with all other processing facilities that touch your food before it hits the market, are constantly inspected for integrity. Producers must keep meticulous records and undergo (often surprise) inspections all the time.
Does “natural” and other terms like “hormone free” mean organic?
While labels such as being free range, pasture raised and hormone free, do mean animals are raised with natural methods, they do not necessarily mean “organic.” Only food that comes from certified producers can be labelled “organic.” Even “holistic management,” which is another sustainable farming system, is not the same as certified organic. This does not mean there are no benefits to other methods that are not certified organic. It simply means there has been no third party organic certification.
It is important to understand that “certified organic” is not just a regulation. It is an actual law across North America. This protects the integrity of using “organic” as a label.
What is the benefit to farmers to become certified organic?
First, being certified organic allows the farmer to differentiate their products. This assists with their marketing. There must be higher market value in their food to compensate for the investment they have made into their farm management systems.
Second, farmers that are certified organic have access to many educational and technical resources. There is a network of experts and peer supports they can access. Combined with the marketing benefit, these resources can increase the sales of a farm by double digits year-after-year.
Finally, farmers feel a personal sense of fulfillment being certified organic. We do not appreciate our farmers enough and they often do not experience the little appreciation the industry receives directly. Knowing they are doing their part to preserve ecological health between the people and the planet, for generations to come, is very intrinsically rewarding.
Farming is hard work, especially while maintaining certification standards. But to the organic farmer, in the end, it is all worth it.