Why do people choose organic foods? They definitely are not the cheapest foods on the shelves, so why do people choose organic products over non-organic products? Most people know that organic foods are better for our bodies, but when informed that they are also significantly better for our planet they begin to understand the importance organics play on a global scale.
In order to receive a the USDA Organic certification, foods must be grown and processed according to strict federal guidelines which regulate things like soil quality, animal raising practices, pesticides and herbicides and use of additives. Organic foods can not contain any traces of GMOs.
As technologies advance and our understanding of the connection between human activities and the effects they play on our environment are verified, organic standards and the certification requirements are evolving.
Areas of Organic to explore and define as food production systems develop:
- Hydroponics- Organic has specific soil requirements; however, hydroponic growing systems don’t use soil. Can hydroponic systems be deemed “organic” since they don’t fulfill the soil requirements? Positive qualities and processes for hydroponics need to be studied and defined that may allow hydroponic growers to substitute the soil requirements with similar and beneficial requirements that would be just as good for the environment as the soil requirements in place today.
- Animal Welfare Standards- If an animal gets sick, organic farmers typically start trying to nurse the animal back to health by natural or homeopathic medicines in order to maintain the animals “organic” status; however, if that doesn’t work, according to the organic certification guidelines, the farmer must use whatever forms of medicine are available to save the animal’s life, even if that means administering antibiotics and the animal will no longer be considered “certified organic”. This humane requirement is enforced because it is understood that the well-being of animals is more important than any certification credential.
Advocates for humane treatment of animals don’t think the Organic requirements for animal welfare are clearly defined or strict enough. For instance, one area of organics being discussed today is—“Are the “Natural behavior” requirements too vague?” Currently the requirements just state that animals must be raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behavior, and they have access to the outdoors to graze on pasture. However, it is not clear what that means specifically. Also, there are unclear exceptions to this requirement, like weather conditions--but animal rights champions argue that what some reasonable person may call “uncomfortable but acceptable” weather conditions, others may use as an excuse to pen up their animals inhumanely for extended periods of time. Moving forward, organic activists believe it would be beneficial for the USDA to more clearly define the requirements for organic meats certification, ensuring that all animals are treated humanely and equally.
- Aquaculture- Currently fish cannot be officially certified organic. There are too many variables with ocean and freshwater environments to monitor. The USDA is considering a set of rules for organic farmed fish. Opponents say the recommended rules don’t go far enough to meet the strict standards of other organic foods and will cause great harm to natural aquatic ecosystems.
- Natural Flavors- Controversy swirls around Natural Flavors, since the FDA has not developed a definition of the word “natural” or its derivatives. Some “natural flavors” come from human hair or duck feathers. Other “natural flavors” contain non-GMO ingredients. Should “natural flavors list exactly what ingredients are in them? Organic advocates believe more transparency is required with flavorings and stricter standards are needed for products that use flavorings and want to be listed as USDA Certified Organic.
It is clear that organics are best for the future of our planet. What is unclear is the future of organics. We encourage everyone to buy organic and become more active in voicing your concerns and ideas about improving the requirements for USDA certified organic foods. Your voice can make a difference. Stand up and be heard.