What is organic food?It seems a little late to be asking the question, what is organic food? However, although we’ve been lucky enough for decades to find sources of organic food, and have discussed it with a few industry folk, when it comes down to defining the term organic food, that definition is at best a little hard to pin down.

After all, we all have a general idea — food without additives, hormones, pesticides, is not shot full of chemicals, antibiotics or other toxic stuff. Clean food that’s good for you. But that is not a definition based on organic standards.

So I figured it would be a simple thing to use this big Internet to find the data. And I did.

First, I hopped over to the United States Department of Agriculture’s website where I found the National Organic Program. From there, I found NOP Regulations (Standards) & Guidelines. Good enough! I went there, then clicked on Standards, and got a page with yet more links — aha! — I clicked on View Entire Standards (PDF). And found that it’s an Adobe Acrobat file unpleasantly comprised of some 554 pages. I started to see the problem here.

Backtracking, I somehow found the USDA’s Organic Certification section where I found Labeling and Marketing Information:

The labeling requirements of the new program apply to raw, fresh products and processed foods that contain organic ingredients. Foods that are sold, labeled, or represented as organic will have to be produced and processed in accordance with the NOP standards.

It’s pretty short and sweet, although not in the kind of detail I’d sought. I’d post the whole thing here, but I’m not too crazy about the idea of copyright infringement, let alone against the U.S. Government, so click on the link to read it.

Just to be thorough, I also found the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (e-CFR) – PART 205 – NATIONAL ORGANIC PROGRAM, in case you’d like to read online. Be my guest.

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4 Comments for "What is organic food?"

  1. Just one minute there … sewage sludge in food?!

    […] didn't take too long after I'd written the What is organic food? article yesterday — having read the USDA's National Organic Program's Labeling and Marketing […]

  2. Definition of Organic Food takes a hit

    […] — the guys who oversee our country's agriculture (meat and produce) — have changed the definition of organic food so that organic no longer means organic as we understand it, but conventional. Conventional food […]

  3. Noel Plumley

    I have always been confused about the term ‘organic’ . In terms of food or plant standards’ production it is a pretty meaningless term. Anything growing is organic even with the assistance of added inorganic synthetic chemicals. The term ‘organic’ in the context of food production needs to be changed to a specific term such as nil added synthetic substances (NASS). I would then be ensured as a consumer that a fair standard had been applied. Don’t get me wrong I fully believe in NASS but I take the term ‘organic ‘ with a pinch of salt as it is a very non-discriptive term and more importantly easily corrupted by non NASS industries.

  4. Diane Vigil

    Sorry for the delay. At any rate, I can well understand your confusion — and I agree that it’s best explained by differentiating between (a) the definition of the word “organic” and (b) the legal definition of “organic” as used on labels (at least, here in the U.S.).

    I don’t believe we have a “NASS” (nil added synthetic substances) designation here. However, while we do have the U.S.D.A. (United States Department of Agriculture) organic labeling standards. Those, very unfortunately, have three levels, only the first of which (“100% organic”) mean what I think of when I hear the word organic. We’ve done a little writeup of the USDA labeling standards here:

    which also has a link to the USDA Organic Labeling and Marketing Information PDF:

    I normally just link to our article above, since the USDA seems to have, at one time, moved their page(s), and I’d hate to have to change the link throughout this website.

    At any rate, the bottom line is that I very much agree with you. I don’t find the standards very logical, and in the case of the USDA standards, at least one level (the middle one) doesn’t make much sense at all, as it allows other non-organic substances to creep in.

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