At Peri & Sons Farms we believe the best customers are educated customers—especially when it comes to organics. Essentially organic farming is about getting back to basics and keeping things pure and simple. Unfortunately understanding the complex regulations, policies and procedures of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP) is anything but simple.
There are many creditable sources containing more information about NOP standards and organic farming. Several informative websites are cited below as well as links to the source-websites for the information provided here.
National Organic Program
NOP develops, implements, and administers national production, handling, and labeling standards for organic agricultural products. The NOP also accredits the certifying agents (foreign and domestic) who inspect organic production and handling operations to certify that they meet USDA standards.
What does “Certified Organic Mean?
The USDA has developed national standards that food labeled "organic" must meet, whether it is grown in the United States or imported from other countries. NOP regulates the standards for any farm, wild crop harvesting, or handling operation that wants to sell an agricultural product as organically produced. After October 21, 2002, when you buy food labeled "organic," you can be sure that it was produced using the highest organic production and handling standards in the world.
Organic Certification for Produce
The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (NSAIS) describes NOP certification this way:
In essence, organic certification is a simple concept. A third party—an organic certifying agent—evaluates producers, processors, and handlers to determine whether they conform to an established set of operating guidelines called organic standards. Those who conform are certified by the agent and allowed to use a logo, product statement, or certificate to document their product as certified organic. In other words, the certifier vouches for the producer and assures buyers of the organic product's integrity...
The USDA organic law requires annual inspection and certification of all operations that sell over $5,000/year in organic products in order to use the organic label. Both private and state run agencies certify operations as organic. Documentation of inputs, crop and livestock activities, harvests and sales is mandated to verify compliance.
To qualify for organic certification, prohibited materials (including prohibited fertilizers, pesticides and genetically modified crops) must not have been applied to organic crops or the soil in which the crops are grown for a minimum of 36 months prior to an organic harvest. The steps to becoming a certified organic producer are very basic. The five that follow are typical, though variations might apply in different circumstances.
- Identify a suitable certifier
- Submit an application
- Completeness Review
- On-farm inspection
- Final review
Organic production systems emphasize proactive, knowledge-based management, on-farm resources and recognition of our interdependency with nature. Diverse crop rotations interrupt insect, pest, disease and weed problems, reducing the need for off-farm inputs. Using the wisdom gained from centuries of agriculture, along with the latest science and understanding of natural systems, results in a sustainable method of food and fiber production to feed our world for generations to come.
Organic produce production systems are designed to:
- Maximize biological activity of the soil and minimize soil erosion.
- Minimize the use of nonrenewable resources.
- Minimize agricultural pollution.
- Respond to site-specific challenges by using natural methods and materials.
Organic agriculture prohibits the use of synthetic herbicides and pesticides, genetically-modified organisms or synthetic fertilizers, and Federal organic rules prohibit the use of sewage sludge (biosolids) or irradiation.
Frequently Asked Questions about Organic
Is there an official definition of "organic"?
The following excerpt is from the definition of "organic" that the National Organic Standards Board adopted in April 1995: "Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony."
What is Organic Agriculture?
Using tools that mimic nature, organic farmers enhance the health of their environment, resulting in pure and nutritious food. Organic agriculture uses an array of cultural and biological practices to build soil fertility, manage weeds and pests and enhance recycling of nutrients and increase biodiversity. Rather than substituting approved inputs for non-approved inputs, organic farmers continuously improve their farm system by building and balancing their soils that then produce vibrant crops and robust livestock.
Can any type of agricultural product become certified organic?
Yes, any agricultural product that meets third-party or state certification requirements may be considered organic. Organic foods are becoming available in an impressive variety, including pasta, prepared sauces, frozen juices, frozen meals, milk, ice cream and frozen novelties, cereals, meat, poultry, breads, soups, chocolate, cookies, beer, wine, vodka and more. These foods, in order to be certified organic, have all been grown and processed according to organic standards and must maintain a high level of quality.
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 (OFPA). The National Organic Standards Board was then established to develop guidelines and procedures to regulate all organic crops. The USDA during December 2000 unveiled detailed regulations to implement OFPA. These took effect on April 21, 2001, with an 18-month implementation period ending October 2002. At that time, any food labeled organic must meet these national organic standards. USDA’s National Organic Program oversees the program.
Do organic farmers ever use pesticides?
Prevention is the organic farmer’s primary strategy for disease, weed, and insect control. By building healthy soils, organic farmers find that healthy plants are better able to resist disease and insects. Organic producers often select species that are well adapted for the climate and therefore resist disease and pests. When pest populations get out of balance, growers will try various options like insect predators, mating disruption, traps, and barriers. If these fail, permission may be granted by the certifier to apply botanical or other non-persistent pest controls under restricted conditions. Botanicals are derived from plants and are broken down quickly by oxygen and sunlight.
How will purchasing organic products help keep our water clean?
Conventional agricultural methods can cause water contamination. Beginning in May 1995, a network of environmental organizations, including the Environmental Working Group, began testing tap water for herbicides in cities across the United States’ Corn Belt, and in Louisiana and Maryland. The results revealed widespread contamination of tap water with many different pesticides at levels that present serious health risks. In some cities, herbicides in tap water exceed federal lifetime health standards for weeks or months at a time. The organic farmer’s elimination of polluting chemicals and nitrogen leaching, in combination with soil building, works to prevent contamination, and protects and conserves water resources.
Is organic food better for you?
There is mounting evidence at this time to suggest that organically produced foods may be more nutritious. Furthermore, organic foods and fiber are spared the application of toxic and persistent insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilizers. Many EPA-approved pesticides were registered long before extensive research linked these chemicals to cancer and other diseases. In the long run, organic farming techniques provide a safer, more sustainable environment for everyone.
Why does organic food sometimes cost more?
Prices for organic foods reflect many of the same costs as conventional items in terms of growing, harvesting, transportation and storage. Organically produced foods must meet stricter regulations governing all of 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 cheaper.
Isn’t organic food just a fad?
According to the Organic Trade Association, U.S. sales of organic food and non-food items reached almost $25 billion in 2008, with a combined growth rate of just over 17% between 2007 and 2008.
Organic food takes the largest bite out of the total. Sales reached almost $23 billion, accounting for 93% of total organic sales. Non-foods is growing off a much smaller base, but growing faster, according to the OTA report. Sales rang up $1.6 billion, up nearly 40% from the year before.
Sales are expected to continue growing an average of 18% each year from 2007-2010. The adoption of national standards for certification is expected to open up new markets for U. S. organic producers. Internationally, organic sales continue to grow as well.