Organic Food Definitions The USDA, the United States Department of Agriculture — 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 means anything goes, which can impact your health.

Just take a look at the chart to the right (also (PDF)), and you’ll see what I mean. Only at the top level of "organic" have we approached what most of us mean by that term. Seriously, who among us is thinking, "I’d like some organic [whatever] … with a little mercury thrown in"?

Anybody and everybody interested in maintaining their health should be aware of the USDA’s recent recharacterization of the definition of organic food. From the Organic Consumers Association’s June 22, 2007 press release:

USDA Announcement: Foods Carrying the USDA ‘95% Organic‘ Seal Are Now Allowed to Contain Factory Farmed Intestines, PCBs, and Mercury
The Organic Consumers Association filed a petition during the USDA’s short seven-day comment period on the issue outlining various problems with some of the proposed ingredients. The USDA is required to post all such incoming comments online, and 99% of the comments currently posted there show the public opposes the passage of this proposal.

The USDA’s passage of this proposal has resulted in the following:

  • Anheuser Busch will be allowed to sell its "Organic Wild Hops Beer" without using any organic hops at all.
  • Sausages, brats, and breakfast links labeled as "USDA Organic" are now allowed to contain intestines from factory farmed animals raised on chemically grown feed, synthetic hormones, and antibiotics.
  • Products labeled as "USDA Organic" and containing fish oil may contain toxins such as PCBs and mercury (note: nonorganic fishoil products have this same risk, but despite the USDA ruling, it is against the National Organic Standards to allow such toxins in organic foods).

"It’s disheartening to see how profit motivated businesses like Kraft, Wal-Mart and Anheuser-Busch have more sway over the U.S. Department of Agriculture than family farmers, independent organic producers, and consumers," said Ronnie Cummins, OCA’s National Director.

OCA’s Environmental Scientist, Craig Minowa, noted that foods labeled as 100% organic will still be 100% organic. "This rule applies to products that are 95% organic or less," said Minowa of the USDA’s decision, adding that "The ruling is yet another reason for organic-minded shoppers to carefully read ingredient labels, look for ‘100% Organic’ labels, and buy from local family farmers via your area co-op, farmers market or CSA."

[Bold and color added for emphasis. For the full text of the OCA’s Petition at, go to Alert: Another Sneak Attack On Organic Standards: USDA To Allow More Conventional Ingredients In Organics.]

Well, there you have it. Now you must look not just for the USDA Organic label, but for an indication that the item is 100% organic.

Here’s a thought: what if the middleman — for-profit corporations such as the ones mentioned in the above article — could be taken out of the buying equation? What if we could establish a system whereby we could obtain organic food directly from trusted farmers? I’d rather pay good money directly to the farmer for good, nutritional food than to people whose actions seem to indicate that it doesn’t matter how they make their profits. This isn’t something wrong with corporations; it’s the people who run specific corporations making the decisions to lessen the nutritional value of food and apparently successful in telling the USDA what to do.

Regardless of what happens here, we think it’s best — nay, imperative — to be informed so that decisions can be made based on correct information.

We want organic food. Regular food, not treated with chemicals, preservatives, radiation, etc., grown from soil that is alive and full of vitamins and minerals, instead of dead soil saturated with chemicals that bring death to bugs, etc. Yes, in residue form. But residues can accumulate in the body. Combine that with other residues from other "conventionally" treated food and it is then possible that our bodies could take on a similarity to the dead soil we get our "conventional" food from. We could all change our names to conventional. We can eat all day, gain too much weight and, at the same time, starve to death due to lack of nutrition.

Lets face it: we have to eat. We are the ultimate cash cows being callously treated.

Do we want to eat for good health? Or bad health? If we’re going to spend money, isn’t it wise to spend it on something that is good for us? If we want to keep our health, it behooves us to look into this.

We need to have a definition of organic food that means organic food and remains so. That way we can have the choice — healthy food or unhealthy food.

George Vigil

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11 Comments for "Definition of Organic Food takes a hit"

  1. Diane Vigil

    This is what’s scary, I think — that definitions can be changed so easily to be pretty much (what I’d consider) the opposite of what we think they mean.

    First, we have "natural", which seems essentially to mean nothing. Now organic — the designation for which can be very tough to get — recharacterized to mean "less than organic". So we’re supposed to scan food packaging to ensure that it’s not only organic, but 100% organic — or who knows what we’d be eating.

    Not fair. Not fair at all.

  2. Miriam

    Hi Diane,
    Hopefully you won’t get this comment twice. I timed out the first time around.

    Please, give my congratulations to your husband on this good and important article. WE WANT ORGANIC FOOD!

    Yes, we do, and buying from the small farmer is the smartest suggestion in this post. If this happens, it will give the American small farmer his job back, after it being stolen from him by the factory farms which sprang up after WWII. Teachers and farmers are our nation’s greatest treasures. They inform us and feed us. Yet, they are paid the least and respected the least. It’s not right. Our dollar can change that. I sincerely believe in this.

    Thank you for the opportunity of reading this important post.

  3. Diane Vigil

    Hi Miriam! I quite agree. We’ve been visiting our local Farmers’ Market and finding, sometimes, organic food there. Nothing like a huge table of avocados, I always say. :)

    I do take the point about farmers being paid the least. I’m hoping that (what seems to be) the grass roots move to organic foods ensures that they’re paid more for what they do — and that more farmers make the move to producing organic food.

    Thing is, I’m pretty sure that food only got cheaper with the advent of pesticides, herbicides, whatever-icides and factory farming, which gives you food not so much worth eating. I suspect that what organic food costs now — given any middlemen, of course — is what good, clean food would have cost anyway.

  4. erik

    I would just say that you can buy 100% organic food direct from farmers(farmers markets for one), you just need to do a little more research and then start by calling the farms, the problem is they won’t care too much about the 100$ you have because that means very little to them, but I guarantee if you got together with a few people and agreed to buy X amount of food for X price from the farmer each 1-2 weeks you could surely strike a deal. There are farms in Santa cruz that sell only to a single restaurant, why could this not be possible for a co-op etc. The answers are out there, and now that people are mobilized things need to be organized and progress needs to set it’s course straight again.

    Best of luck, and count me in if you’re organizing! I grow a lot of my own food at home already but it wouldn’t hurt to have more.

  5. s mailen

    Once again, we are expected to endure the federal government’s penchant for being ‘swayed’ by business interests. We can’t rely on the goverment using true science or quality standards.
    This should be more than enough for people to band together and bypass the government and its non-rational proclivities. No one should be expected to sacrifice his personal standards (or health) on the altar of undeserved profits or via the efforts of elected non-leaders who should be forced to eat nothing but MREs.
    No doubt, elected officials who rely on lobbies to ‘sway’ them use these funds for re-election and personal purposes. Without a series of lawsuits on a scale that exceeds the tobacco debacle, we have no chance to expect to get or remain healthy.
    Probably, only those who grow their own food can expect to bypass an illogical and citizenry-wasting government. The government’s actions show it to be utterly untrustworthy and deserving of whatever it takes to get their attention and motivate them to focus on being accountable on a daily basis.
    This is America. This is not a social engineering experiment via concentration camp methods.

  6. Diane Vigil

    Well, I know what you mean.

    Unless one was keeping up with this stuff, how is anyone to know that:

    • only “100% organic” means what we think “organic” means
    • “made with organic ingredients” means that only some ingredients are organic
    • and labeled “organic” — worse yet — means 95% organically-produced ingredients … but that can include a list of toxic ingredients!

    This is quite preposterous, and I don’t blame anyone for concluding that the USDA/FDA is not doing its job, and that the reasons for that are questionable.

    Our solution, given that this has been going on for years, and that there’s a lot of “push” to convince us that conventionally produced (that is, un-organic) products are okay because (as I’ve heard) the level of toxins “won’t hurt you” … well, our solution is to shop where we can find nutritious food, and to raise some of our own. That’s what this blog is about.

    Yes, it’s extra work compared to snatching things off the grocery shelves, and it costs more in many cases, but I was quite taken by something I read the other week … that prices for conventionally-produced food were “artificially low”.

    Now, that’s something I can “sink my teeth into” as it were … that we’re paying what would be the normal price for food, and that anyone buying conventionally produced food may very likely be getting defective food … at a lower price.

    So … ya pays for what ya get.

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