Organic FAQ (Part I)

Q: What does “organic agriculture” mean?

A: Organic agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved.
Simply stated, organic produce and other ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms or ionizing radiation. Animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones

Q: AWhat’s the difference between "natural" and "organic" foods?

A: Organic agriculture is based upon a systematic approach and standards that can be verified and are recognized internationally. Natural foods, on the other hand, have no legal definition or recognition, and are not based on a systematic approach. While natural products may generally be minimally processed, there are no requirements to provide proof, leaving open the possibility for fraud and misuse of the term.

Q: How does a farmer go about converting land to organic status?

A: Converting land to organic status is a three-year process. There is a two-year conversion process consisting of building up the fertility of the land. Produce grown in the first year cannot be stated as organic. In the second year produce may be stated as “In Conversion”. It is not until the third year that produce may be stated as fully organic. This conversion time gives the land a clean break from chemicals and allows the farmer to plant fertility-building crops, such as grass and clover, to improve the condition of the soil. The 'conversion plan' explains how the farmer will manage the farm to ensure healthy crops, livestock and environment. It includes:
  • soil management programme
  • cropping plans and proposed crop rotations
  • Well nourishment of crops
  • programme for controlling pests, diseases and weeds
  • grazing practices and grassland management
  • environmental conservation methods
  • livestock management plan
  • soil analysis and following of recommendatios

Q: What does "Certified Organic" mean?

A: Certified Organic means the item has been grown according to strict uniform standards that are verified by independent state or private organizations. Certification includes inspections of farm fields and processing facilities, detailed record keeping, and periodic testing of soil and water to ensure that growers and handlers are meeting the standards which have been set. Once a certification body has verified conformity with organic standards, the product can be labeled as such. This label will differ depending on the certification body, but can be taken as an assurance that the essential elements constituting an "organic" product have been met from the farm to the market. It is important to note that an organic label applies to the production process, ensuring that the product has been produced and processed in an ecologically sound manner. The organic label is therefore a production process claim as opposed to a product quality claim.

Q: How do organic farmers fertilize crops and control pests, diseases, and weeds?

A: Organic farmers build healthy soil. Organic matter in soil contributes to good soil structure and water-retention capacity. Organic farmers increase organic matter in soil through the use of cover crops, compost, and biologically based soil amendments, producing healthy disease and insect resistant plants. Organic agriculture emphasizes good plant nutrition, which is key to the prevention of plant diseases. Organic farmers use cover crops and sophisticated crop rotations to improve ecological relationships in the field. Weeds are controlled through crop rotation, mulching, cover crops, hand weeding, and mechanical methods such as flame weeding and other methods. Organic farmers also rely on diverse populations of soil organisms, beneficial insects, and birds to keep pests under control.

Q: What are international requirements for organic agriculture exist?

A: Several international requirements exist, including those of the European Union Standard, the Japanese Agricultural Standards, the U.S. National Organic Program, and the Codex Alimentarius Commission “Guidelines for the Production, Processing, Labelling, and Marketing of Organic Food.”

Q: What is the work of the Codex Alimentarius Commission?

A: The Codex Alimentarius Commission develops international food standards to protect consumer health and to facilitate fair trade practices in foods. The Codex Alimentarius Commission was established in 1962 by the World Health Organization and by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.