While purchasing groceries, you may see shelves in your local store, specified for organic food products. You may prefer to pay a few more coins to pick an organic product, considering it safer than the conventional food products. Many of us may not even bother about such labels and go on with our needs.
However, the outbreak of COVID-19 and earlier the Ebola, avian influenza (or bird flu), H1N1 flu virus (or swine flu) etc are considered closely interlinked with the health of ecosystem. A healthy biodiversity in the ecosystem resist quick spread of such diseases. This alone reason is enough for us to focus more on organic food to avoid killing biodiversity by using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
So, what is organic food?
What are organic food definitions?
How is it different from natural products?
When you look into the most popular dictionaries, you are likely not to find any organic food definition. I have tried but could not see any meaning for the term in Merriam-Webster, Longman, or Oxford dictionaries.
Generally, the word organic is used with the foods which are produced without using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The term has the same root as organon in Greek, which means work. (Quinon, 1998)
The word has close relation with the chemistry of the living substances. However, when farmers use fertilizers and pesticides derived from living things, they also started calling such products as organic ones, lately. Various government regulations and marketplace have given specific meanings to the term, which are now elaborated on the label.
The encyclopedia Britannica defines:
“Organic food, fresh or processed food produced by organic farming methods. Organic food is grown without the use of synthetic chemicals, such as human-made pesticides and fertilizers. It does not contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Organic foods include fresh produce, meats, and dairy products, as well as processed foods such as crackers, drinks, and frozen meals. The market for organic food has grown significantly since the late 20th century, becoming a multi billion-dollar industry with distinct production, processing, distribution, and retail systems.”
Another encyclopedia defines organic food as:
“Organic food refers to crops or livestock that are grown on the farm without the application of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, and without using genetically modified organisms. In contrast, the type of agriculture followed by most farmers, which does include the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, is termed “conventional” agriculture.”
In 1990, the Organic Food Production Act (OFPA) gave an organic food definition regarding labels using this term. The description was changed by the National Organic Standard Board in 1995, as authorized to set national standards for production, handling, and processing of the foods claiming to be organic. This description includes four different aspects that qualify food as an organic one.
Food Handling and Processing
The USDA (NOSB) defines organic agriculture as “an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain, and enhance ecological harmony.”
This organic food definition includes two aspects which can qualify a food as organic one:
i- An ecological production management system
ii- Rare use of non-organic fertilizers and chemicals
However, the main focus is on the enhancement of ecological harmony by improving biodiversity, soil biological activities, and natural cycles. When your inputs include synthetic chemicals and fertilizers, it is no more organic but may become a natural product.
When a product contains a label of the “Organic Food,” legally speaking, it must have been produced by the system mentioned for organic agriculture. If the production of the food has not taken into account the methods to save the environment, ecological balances, biodiversity, and soil quality, it is illegal to use an organic label for that product.
According to law, when a product is labeled with “100% organic” or “Organic” and USDA Organic seal, it must contain at least 95% organic ingredients. When such products contain between 95 to 70 percent organic ingredients, it can be labeled as “made with organic ingredients.” Not only that, but it must also list up at least three of the components which are from the living substances.
While using the organic agricultural system, there is every possibility that the food being produced would be least polluted. However, the USDA clarifies in the organic food definition that organic farming practices can’t eliminate all kinds of residuals from organic food. However, the product must maintain a minimum level of pollutants from soil, water, air, and the earth. When we include synthetic chemicals and fertilizers, it is natural that our product would contain a lot of residuals, which can be dangerous for human health.
Food does not remain an organic one when handled and processed in a way not approved by the USDA. Furthermore, retailers are also required to adhere to the standards. Any violation or departure from standards at any stage can degrade the status of the product.
The USDA Consumer Brochure: Organic Food Standards and Labels: The Facts. “What is organic food?” also gives an organic food definition. It is a produce resulted from using ‘renewable resources’ while conserving soil and water to improve ‘environmental quality for future generations.’ Organic products are not limited to crops but also includes ‘organic meat, poultry, eggs, and diary products from animals that were not given any anti-biotics or growth hormones.’