Organic food certification – some fundamental features

Certified organic foods do not necessarily need to be free of all pesticides; they permit some pesticides’ use. Organic food production prohibits sewage sludge, genetically engineered or genetically modified organisms, ionizing radiation, most synthetic pesticides, and fertilizers. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, and dairy products must be free of antibiotics and growth hormones. Animals are fed on organic feed only. Organic regulation prescribes specific requirements for feeding, housing, and breeding. Animals need to be raised in natural, humane conditions.

The focus is on the sustainable use of resources and the adoption of environmentally sustainable practices. Organic agriculture and farming practices require integrated pest management practices, protection, promotion of biodiversity, and maintaining native ecosystems. Organic crops must be free from any contamination from genetically modified organism crops.

Sustainable ecological practices help conserve and, over time, improve the soil. Soils that are bio-diverse have better soil structure, are less prone to soil erosion and have an enhanced ability to fix carbon dioxide from the air through the photosynthetic process. It leads to enhanced carbon sequestration and contributes to the fight against climate change.
Most regulators, like the USDA, require agricultural farms to adhere to organic farming practices for three years before the farm output can be certified. It ensures that crops are not contaminated with substances prohibited for use in organically produced food.

National Organic Programs put standards that must be adhered to be certified organic. The certification covers not just cultivation but also storage, processing, packaging, and shipping. Criteria for certification can vary from country to country.

The food industry’s labels — natural, all-natural, free-range, or hormone-free — should not be confused with organic; the two are not synonymous. The use of natural, free-range, hormone-free is simply a statement describing a property of the food item. The natural label will mean minimally processed and could include the non-use of artificial flavors and colors, preservatives, and other artificial ingredients.

In the case of meat, animals may continue to be given growth-enhancing chemicals or hormones. Labels describe the meat as naturally raised, free-ranging, grass-fed, pasture-raised, hormone-free, and the like. Labels define the property of dairy, meat, or other food product. It helps distinguish products from those certified as organic.

Additional reading
Nutrition Facts – a guide to good health

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