Questions About Organic Farming
What is organic farming?
Organic refers to the agricultural systems used to produce food and fiber.
Organic farming systems do not use toxic chemical pesticides or fertilizers.
Instead, they are based on the development of biological diversity and the
maintenance and replenishment of soil fertility. Organic foods are minimally
processed to maintain the integrity of the food without artificial ingredients,
preservatives, or irradiation.
What does certified organic mean?
Certified organic refers to agricultural products that have been grown and
processed according to strict uniform standards, verified annually by
independent state or private organization. Certification includes inspection of
farm fields and processing facilities. Farm practices inspected include long
term soil management, buffering between organic farms and any neighboring
conventional farms, product labeling, and record keeping. Processing inspections
include review of the facility’s cleaning and pest control methods, ingredient
transportation and storage, and record keeping and audit control.
Is there a national standard for organic?
At present, each state has its own regulations for organic production and
certification. With the passage of the Organic Food Production Act of 1990, the
USDA began the process of developing federal standards for organic foods. When a
set of guidelines is finally approved and implemented, all organic foods will be
required to be certified and meet these national standards. This will cover all
organic crops and processed foods, including produce, grains, meat, dairy, eggs,
and fiber. To learn more about the Proposed Rule, visit the National Organic
Program's website at http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/
How do organic farmers control pests, diseases, and weeds? How do they
Organic farmers’ primary strategy in controlling pests and diseases is
prevention. Organic farmers build healthy soils--fertilizing and building soil
organic matter through the use of cover crops, compost, and biologically based
soil amendments. This produces healthy plants which are better able to resist
disease and insect predation. Organic farmers also rely on a diverse population
of soil organisms, insects, birds, and other organisms to keep pest problems in
check. When pest populations get out of balance, growers will implement a
variety of strategies such as the use of insect predators, mating disruption,
traps, and barriers. As a last resort, botanical or other non-toxic pesticides
may be applied under restricted conditions. Weeds are controlled through
increased cultivation, as well as through cover crops, mulches, flame weeding,
crop rotation and similar management methods.
How are organic livestock and poultry raised?
Organic meat, dairy products, and eggs are produced from animals which are fed
organic feed and allowed free range and outdoor access. Organic livestock and
poultry are not given antibiotics, hormones, or medications (other than
vaccinations) applied in the absence of illness. They are given wormers and
similar products that have been derived from natural sources. Livestock diseases
and parasites are controlled through preventative measures such as rotational
Why does organic cost more?
Prices for organic foods reflect many of the same costs as conventional foods in
terms of growing, harvesting, transportation and storage. Storage is especially
costly because fresh organic produce does not contain any preservatives, so
retail stores have a higher waste factor. For this reason, retail operations
charge more for the same produce. Buying organic foods and especially produce
within a food co-op saves you from paying these extra retail price
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) were factored into
the price of food, organic foods would cost the same, or, more likely be
Is organic food really a significant industry?
Approximately 1% of the U.S. food supply is grown using organic methods. In
1996, this represented over $3.5 billion in retail sales. Over the past six
years sales of organic products have shown an annual increase of at least 20%.
Organic foods can be found at natural foods stores, health food sections and
produce departments of supermarkets and at farmers’ markets, as well as
through grower direct-marketing such as C.S.A.s (Community Supported
Agriculture). Many restaurant chefs across the country are using organic produce
because they desire its superior quality and taste. Organic food is also gaining
acceptance on a worldwide basis, with nations like Japan and Germany becoming
important international organic food markets.