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Organic Foods Revisited – Let’s Keep it Organic

I have written about organic foods before and wanted to update the reader on the latest developments in the organic movement. In the month of March 2000 the USDA released its final guidelines for Certified Organic Foods. Organic foods represent approximately 1% of all food produced in the United States. This equates to a $6 billion industry that is increasing annually. The demand by consumers for chemical free foods is having an impact, and this article will give you some details of the current situation.

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. “Organic” is a labeling term that denotes products produced under the authority of the Organic Food Production Act. The principal guidelines for organic production are the use of materials and practices that enhance the ecological balance of natural systems and that integrate the parts of the farming system into an ecological whole. Organic agriculture practices cannot ensure that products are completely free of residues; however, methods are used to minimize pollution from air, soil, and water. Organic food handlers, processors and retailers adhere to standards that maintain integrity of agricultural products. The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals, and people.

The phrase “certified organic” needs to be understood from its point of origin. Organic practices require a different mindset from conventional modern agriculture. In organics the focus is not so much on pushing the resources to produce tremendous yields and profits. Instead, organic fosters the ecological processes that produce resources and add value to resulting products and make profits. The market for organics has been growing rapidly with over 40 states with regulations and annual sales of organic products reaching over $6 billion a year.

The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 was first introduced as part of the 1990 Farm Bill. I find it interesting that it has taken 10 years for anything to come out of the government regarding this issue. With the recent release of the guidelines by the USDA, which have to go through a 90-day review period, it looks like we have a national standard for organic food. Once adopted the USDA will issue a certified organic stamp that will mean food grown organically will not be genetically modified, have no sewage sludge used on fields, and not be irradiated. This seal will look a lot like what one sees on a package of meat stating, “prime” or “choice”. There will be four classes of organics:

  • “100% Organic” is just what it says
  • “Organic” foods must be 95% organic material.
  • “Made With Organics” (name of ingredients) applies to products containing between 50-95 percent organic content.
  • Products with less than 50% organic will not be allowed to use the word organic anywhere on the front panel but can specify which ingredients are organic on the ingredients list.

Secretary of Agriculture, Dan Glickman also proposed three expenditures not directly related to the rule but to the growth of organics. They are:

  • Spending an additional $5 million for research and development to improve organic production and processing methods, evaluate economic benefits to the farmers, and develop new organic markets.
  • Establish a pilot organic crop insurance program to help organic farmers.
  • Conduct research in conjunction with the University of California at Davis on organic production and ways to enhance farmers’ ability to market their products.

Since I have been an organic gardener for many years, it is exciting to see the many changes in the organic food industry. As consumers of organic foods, these positive changes let us know that we have a voice and our support is being felt. I urge you to request organic foods wherever you shop. One issue I want to address is the fact that we have many organic farmers in our local region. It is important to support these folks. They are small producers, and they need outlets to be able to maintain their productivity. It all comes down to supply and demand. West Virginia is actively involved in the organic movement with the WVU Extension Office in Morgantown, the State Dept of Agriculture, Dept of Natural Resources, the Department for Economic Development, and our own statewide organic association called MSOGBA (Mountain State Organic Growers and Buyers Association). If you are considering growing organics, these resources can help.

I have also noticed that there are many more companies offering organic supplies – products that meet the organic standards for fertilizers and for insect control. Of course, the deer are a hard problem for all farmers, and I have seen some innovative methods to help control that problem.

The West Virginia Herb Association has made a commitment to help farmers and landowners to begin to learn how to propagate many of our indigenous species of herbs. Due to the increased usage over the last five years, many plants that are common to our area are becoming endangered.

We need to learn how to grow these for future use or else we will lose these valuable medicinals. We already know that ginseng is endangered but we forget about goldenseal, black cohosh, blue cohosh, Echinacea, wild yam, and many others.

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