Is it Truly Organic? Verifying the Authenticity of Organic Foods
If you want to be sure you are buying organic foods, you can’t just look for a sign stating the food is in fact natural or organic. The price of the food, often higher than commercial varieties, isn’t an indicator either. In fact, the only way you can tell for sure that a food and its producer have undergone the rigorous certification process to be labelled organic is to check for the official USDA Organic seal in the United State or the appropriate seal in other countries.
The Certification Process
In the United States, it is no small matter to have products certified as organic by the government. Individual bodies might also label foods as organic, but qualifications might be different depending on the group. To become certified organic in the United States, the farmer must:
Study the organic standards for every level of production.
– Ensure all machinery and production methods comply with standards.
– Document farm history, set-up, water test and soil tests.
– Submit an annual production plan including every step from seed to sale of the produce.
– Submit to annual on-farm inspections, interviews, tours and an examination of records.
– Pay an annual fee of $ 400-$ 2,000 per year.
– Complete daily record-keeping covering all farm activities that must be available for inspection.
By fulfilling these demands, the United States Department of Agriculture will certify the farm and its produce as part of the National Organic Program. Products produced with this certification will bear the appropriate seal in the market or grocery store.
What Certification Means to You
When you buy certified organic foods, you are ensured that the farm producing the items is fulfilling the requirements set forth by government standards. As the organic food market is growing tremendously, there is a great deal of focus on these standards and scrutiny of companies selling under the certified label.
Outside of the farmer’s responsibility, certified organic foods are:
– Produced without most synthetic chemicals such as fertilizer, pesticides, antibiotics, genetically modified organisms or the use of sewage.
– Use farmland that has been free of chemicals for years.
– Produced on farms subject to audits at any time.
– Produced strictly separate from non-certified products.
– Inspected periodically on-site.
Independent Certifications and Misnomers
Organic foods are in great demand and to circumvent the high costs of truly organic production many farms are bending the rules set in place by the government by using alternative certification processes. These might be labelled “natural” or “homegrown” rather than organic and might bear the seal of another certifying body. While a natural food might very well be organic, many others miss meeting all criteria for organic and choose to market themselves in the natural foods category as if they were. If the product is not certified as organic by the USDA and its seal, you run the risk of purchasing food items that are not completely organic.