We’re midway through Organic Harvest Month, and the Whole Story editors asked me for a few of my personal favorite reasons to buy organic food and support organic agriculture. I work nearly constantly on organic standards, certification and advocacy, and the many, many reasons for growing food as naturally as possible are very close to my heart. There are almost as many reasons to choose organic food as there are people who choose it, spanning from environmental benefits to avoiding pesticide residues to amazing flavor to certain nutritional advantages. In the interest of space I’ll focus on a few of the most important benefits, and exactly what we know “organic” means in the grocery store. Since 2002, the USDA’s National Organic Standards have served as the Federal regulation that governs what foods can be sold as organic. This standard is managed by the National Organic Program, which is advised by National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), a 15-member board made up of organic stakeholders including farmers, ranchers, researchers, environmentalists and retailers. I serve as the retail representative on that board through 2015. The USDA has strict requirements for all food sold as “organic” in the United States:
- Organic agriculture uses no potentially harmful persistent pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. A “National List” of allowed and prohibited substances, set by the NOSB, regulates substances used for crops, livestock and food processing.
- Growers and ranchers use earth-friendly methods that improve biodiversity and minimize environmental impact.
- Animals are allowed to fulfill their natural behaviors, are fed organically-grown feed, given fresh air and outdoor access, and no antibiotics or growth hormones.
- Organic products must be certified and contain at least 95% organic ingredients. Any ingredients used in the non-organic 5% must be from a short list of additives approved by the NOSB.
- No irradiation, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or synthetic preservatives are allowed in organic processed products.
- All organic producers must be certified by a USDA-accredited certifying agent. There are about 100 accredited certifiers, such as CCOF, QAI and Oregon Tilth.