For most of the ‘90s, organic farmers and suppliers worked diligently to have the Federal Government adopt a common standard for labeling that would enable supermarket shoppers to be able to identify in a split-second which products are organic.
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Their efforts paid off when USDA's National Organic Rule took effect on October 21, 2002. Officials from the USDA announced the labeling guidelines and introduced a new USDA logo that helps shoppers identify those foods that have been grown, processed and packaged in accordance with organic practices. ONLY products with a minimum of 95% organic ingredients are allowed to use the seal.
The labeling is increasingly important for shoppers. In 2000, there were more than 12,000 organic farmers in the United States, with sales topping $7.8 billion that year. The industry is growing at a rate of more than 20 percent a year.
Here are four organic categories defined in the Rule:
- 100 Percent Organic: Must contain only organically produced ingredients.
- Organic: Defined by the USDA as containing 95 percent of organic ingredients.
- Made With Organic: Must contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients. These foods cannot bear the USDA seal.
- Some Organic Ingredients: Products with less than 70 percent organic ingredients are only allowed to list the organic items in the ingredient panel on the side of the package. These also cannot display the USDA seal.
Don't confuse produce or meat labeled "organic" with that labeled "natural." Natural is a loose term generally meaning that no artificial ingredients were added in processing — it has nothing to do with how the product was grown or raised.
What Organic Means and Doesn't Mean
Many consumers already are confused about organic foods, which is why it is important to understand what organic food is and is not. Here are the definitions:
- Organic standards require that the land used to grow organic food go through a three year "transition period" to make sure the crops are free of synthetic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.
- All organic agriculture prohibits the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, irradiation and sewage sludge. In addition, no genetically modified organisms can be contained in anything labeled organic.
- Organic standards specify that animals may only be fed vegan diets, with no animal by-products. (As an added benefit, this eliminates the risk of certain diseases, such as mad cow.)
A major obstacle in increasing organic consumption seems to be price. According to ACNielsen’s 65,000+ member Homescan panel, when asked how they feel about organic products, 63 percent agreed that "organic products are more expensive than similar non-organic products — far ahead of other attributes (such as 41 percent saying "no pesticides" and 26 percent saying "healthier")
However, many shoppers believe that organic foods, which are generally the result of smaller-scale agricultural operations, taste better. Most often, this is the result of using varieties — often called “heirloom” — that have not had the flavor bred out of them.
Plant or meat variety apart, organics have NOT been proven to be any more nutritious than non-organic foods, although there are some trials in Europe being conducted to determine if in fact this type of sustainable agriculture may in fact yield more nutritious crops.
Phil’s bottom line:
- Buying organics means you will be paying more (between 5 and 50 percent, depending on the type of product).
Want to know more about Phil and food? Visit his website at www.supermarketguru.com.