Unlike conventional farmers, who are not required to prove their products are safe from offending additives or organisms, organic growers must meet stricter guidelines. Those producers that want the certification status have even more of their time and money tied up in the process which, of course, has to be passed on to the consumer. Organic farmers also do not receive the subsidies that are given to conventional growers. It should also be noted that companies that handle or process organic foods must also be certified.
Each country and jurisdiction will have standards to be administered by governmental agencies. Such requirements are stringent much more so than conventionally-grown products. Farmers and processors alike must keep detailed records. All practices and procedures are inspected annually by a third-party certifier. All farms and handlers are required to maintain organic management plans. For three years prior to being given the certification classification, prohibited substances cannot be applied to the land on which organic food is grown.
To be eligible for organic certification
- Land must be free of prohibited materials for at least 36 months prior to the harvest of a crop intended to be certified organic.
- Prohibited materials include a wide variety of fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and growth regulators, and genetically engineered organisms (GMOs), including GE seed and GE seed inoculants.
- Farmers must implement the Organic System Plan. This includes such measures as proactive fertility systems, conservation measures, environmentally sound manure, weed, disease, and pest management practices, and soil building crop rotation systems.
- Growers must also abide by the use of natural inputs and/or approved synthetic substances on the National List. They cannot use any prohibited substances, including GMOs, sewage sludge, or irradiation methods.
- Only organic seeds and seedlings are permitted.
- Growers must follow the restrictions for the use of raw manure and compost.
- Buffer zones have to be maintained and moderated for potential risk of contamination.
To have a dairy herd certified organic, other standards must be met. These requirements include
- One full year of 100% organic management
- 9 months being fed 80% certified organic feed
- Using feed that has been raised on the farm that is included in the organic system plan and managed under organic requirements. This has to be followed by the last 90 days being fed certified organic feed.
- No antibiotics or prohibited hormones or parasiticides may be used for the full 12 months prior to the certification of the milk.
- Allowed parasiticides must be discontinued for the final 90 days prior to the certification of the milk.
- Organic livestock farmers must implement an organic Livestock Plan.
- Animals must have access to the outdoors and for ruminants, access to pasture.
- Feed must be 100% organic, with no antibiotics, growth hormones, or GMOs added, and only approved feed supplements can be given.
- For birds, organic management is applied only to the last third of gestation or from second day after hatching. Therefore, it is wise to know your farmer and his operation methods.
Strict guidelines are to be followed during the processing of organic foods.
- Handlers must follow an organic Handling Plan where there can be no mingling or contamination of organic foods with non-organic foods.
- No irradiation or GMOs are allowed.
- Facilities must undergo proactive sanitation and facility pest management practices.
- Labels must be approved and in accordance with laws of the country and district.
- Whether producing and/or selling, all organic handlers must keep detailed records to verify compliance with the regulation.
- All who sell over $5,000 per year in organic products must be certified. Those producers and handlers who sell under $5,000 per year still have to follow National Organic Standards they just do not have to be certified.
Although the price of organically-grown foods is higher up front, if the cost of cleaning up polluted waters and soil, replacing eroded soils, and providing health care for farmers and workers were factored in, the end results would show that organic produce is actually cheaper to grow and consume.
The average food budget could more than adequately accommodate organic foods by doing a simple test. Add up all the dollars spent every month on food. Include fast food and restaurant meals, purchased cups of coffee or sodas, bagels and even trips to vending machines. You will likely be shocked at just how much is spent on such unhealthy items. A small and gradual change in eating habits can not only free up the money you need to buy the organic foods that you really want, but the resulting health benefits would go a long way in solving the nations staggering health care costs.