Organic - you see it everywhere now; in the market (fruits, veggies, meat, dairy, alcohol), restaurants, clothing, linens, cosmetics and personal care products, even leather. It has become the darling claim on so many product packages because it conjures up comforting images of natural, healthier, more flavorful, and more responsible products.
But what does it actually mean? The Oxford dictionary defines it as relating to or derived from living matter, or (regarding food or farming methods) produced without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial agents. Let's look at how it's used in the marketplace and hopefully provide some tools to make informed decisions when it comes to choosing organic over other products.
What is organic?
USDA Organic produce can be called organic if it’s certified to have grown on soil that had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest. Prohibited substances include most synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Instead, organic farmers feed soil and build soil matter with natural fertilizer to grow their crops. They use insect predators, mating disruption, traps and barriers to protect crops from pests and disease. And they make use of crop rotation, mechanical tillage and hand-weeding, as well as cover crops, mulches, flame weeding and other management methods to control weed growth. HowStuffWorks Our ancestral farmers would be rolling their eyes at us right now since these methods have been practiced for thousands of years before we "invented" it.
Another key to maintaining the integrity of certified organic products is to ensure that every piece of the supply chain that grows, handles (e.g. packaging) or processes the foods are also certified. This provides us a high level of confidence when we buy products officially labeled as organic, they are what they claim to be.
Organic Meat regulations require that animals are raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors (like the ability to graze on pasture), fed 100% organic feed and forage, and not administered antibiotics or hormones so organic certified meat means animals are cared for better.
Processed, Multi-ingredient Foods regulations prohibit organically processed foods from containing artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors and require that their ingredients are organic.
Organic Cotton has a process that is slightly more unique. If you want to be sure that what you are buying is grown in a truly sustainable environment, certified organic cotton is your best option by far. Organic cotton is made without toxic substances and polluting pesticides, and it’s also grown in healthier soil. Because of this, textiles made from organic cotton are generally much better quality. Truly organic cotton will have a slightly off-white coloring, as it’s pesticide free, pigment free, bleach free, and hypoallergenic.
Organic Wool is produced in accordance with federal standards for organic livestock production as described the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Standards. These include:
Prohibiting genetic engineering.
Feed must be certified organic.
Year-round access to the outdoors.
Prohibiting use of conventional synthetic hormones and medicines.
Using preventive disease management practices prior to the use of approved synthetic medicines.
Organic Leather is more ethical than conventional leather, because it uses less harmful chemicals that can have waste that damages the environment, and it takes care of the animals that we receive the leather from, ensuring their quality of life. In addition, it protects wild and exotic animals by banning the use of their skins. Organic leather:
Regulates skins that are allowed (farmed animals only).
Ensures skins come from organically-reared animals - chemical pesticide-free feed, antibiotics only when animal is ill, no preventative antibiotics or growth hormones.
Prohibits use of toxic chemicals in tanning hides - uses plant-based tanning instead. (Source)
Is it healthier for you?
It makes sense that food raised free of harmful chemical pesticides and herbicides, unnecessary antibiotics, and growth hormones would be better not only for the environment but for our personal health as well. That said, there are arguments on both sides of this issue, but that is not the purpose of this article. Despite differences in opinions, both organic and conventional foods are good nutrition and tasty too. Just remember its always good to wash your produce thoroughly before use regardless of how it was grown or where you purchase it.
How does it benefit the environment?
In organic farming, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides are prohibited. This keeps them out of our waterways and soil. These chemicals in farm storm runoff are often the cause of algae super blooms in waterways which deplete oxygen and kill off marine life.
Residue from chemical fertilizers and pesticides can also be found in our food supply which is unhealthy for us and kills off beneficial insects that serve to protect crops from invasive pests. Organic farming restores nutrients to the soil through crop rotation and increases crop yields. The success of organic farming has brought in many new farmers to rural areas that helps the local economy and restores land long left sterile by poor farming methods.
Packaging and shipping benefits?
Organic food cannot be packaged in anything that contains or has been exposed to
synthetic fungicides, fumigants, and preservatives. To ensure that, "products labeled as organic must be packaged in a certified organic facility. Independent facilities (not owned by the certificate holder) that process, handle or package organic products must be certified organic and are responsible for following regulations that maintain the integrity of the food they deal with. Products packaged in an uncertified facility may not be sold as organic and may only identify organic content on their ingredient panel." (Source)
Why does it often cost more?
Organic growers have many requirements to comply with to earn the certified organic label. It is costly, complex and time-consuming. Industrial growers have no such requirements and are free to grow however they see fit regardless of health to customers, animals or environment. Organic farms are typically small and can’t compete with large-scale industrial farms that grow huge volumes quickly and cheaply. So show your local organic farmers some love as they grow your produce and livestock with their heart, not just for profit.
What should I look for when shopping?
When shopping for organic products, look first for the USDA Organic label, as well as the certified labels noted above. This really is the best way to make sure the product you're buying is certified to the rigorous standards of being organic.
For organic produce, if they claim to be organic but have no USDA Organic label, check the Price Look Up (PLU) code. These are numbers on stickers that are used to identify the produce during checkout at the grocery store (they are usually stuck directly on each item). Organic PLU codes have a 5-digit number that starts with the number 9. Non-organic produce has 4-digit PLU codes that start with the number 4. (Source)
Get to know growers at your local farmers market and ask how they manage pests (chemical or not) and if they use chemical fertilizers or not. And, besides, its nice to know where your food is coming from and who's growing it. It adds a whole new level of appreciation for the food we put into our bodies!
While ELM445® does not provide organic foods, we do offer products with sustainable materials like organic cotton found in our reusable makeup pads, mesh produce bags, utensil kit cloth wraps, and the bamboo straws' pouch. Be sure to check these out along with our other products and get FREE SHIPPING with your order of $75 or more.
We hope you found this helpful, but if you still have questions about certified organic please send us a note and we'll be happy to answer your questions or direct you to someone who can. As always we appreciate your support and feedback, as well as reviews that go a long way in helping us expand our reach and get noticed in online searches.
The ELM445® Team