You may have noticed that the word “organic” has become much more common in grocery stores and on product labels over the last 10 or 20 years. There are many reasons for this change, but there’s no question that American consumers are generally much more conscious about food quality and the source of the ingredients. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the arm of the federal government responsible for regulating agricultural development, the number of organic farms and the amount of produce sold tripled between 2008 and 2019.
What Does Organic Mean?
For most of the history of humanity, all agriculture has been “organic” simply because there was no alternative. Until the industrial revolution, farmers had to grow whatever they could with the same basic tools (plows, seeds, sun, and rain). Around the turn of the 20th century, however, technological advances in machinery and chemical engineering introduced mass scale manufacturing techniques to farming in order to substantially increase yields. These techniques have grown to include synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides as well as selective breeding and even genetic engineering.
In the years since the transformation to modern farming methods, a movement has emerged that seeks to provide alternatives to these agribusiness techniques. Over the years, some research has suggested that the synthetic chemicals used in growing crops may have carcinogenic effects on humans. Even beyond the potential negative health benefits, though, there are also numerous concerns about environmental sustainability, lack of biodiversity, food waste, animal welfare, and the fact that a few large corporations control most of the seeds and chemicals that are required for modern farms to operate.
In light of all of this, a growing community of farmers and consumers has created a whole new market for organic agricultural products. This approach to farming is characterized by only using pesticides and fertilizers that are derived from natural sources and lightly processed. While the principles have been used by many organic farmers for decades, it’s only been since 2002 that official organic certification was implemented by the USDA. Now, when you see “organic” at the store, it means that the farming or animal husbandry processes have met a certain set of organic standards regulated by the government.
What is Involved in Organic Certification?
Any farm, regardless of the size or what it produces, can only sell and label products as “organic” after participating in a certification program administered by the USDA. The farm, handling facilities, production processes, and any chemicals must comply with a specific set of criteria before being able to use the USDA organic seal. These regulations cover four categories of organic products:
- Crops - any plants that are grown to be harvested as food, livestock feed, or fibers
- Livestock - any animals raised as food or used in the production of food
- Processed products - items derived from harvested food that have been handled, packaged, processed, and packaged
- Wild crops - plants from a site that have not been cultivated
One of the basic principles of organic operations is to grow and harvest products in such a way as to maintain or improve soil quality and water quality while also protecting the environment. This can include protecting wetlands, woodlands, and other natural environments while also humanely and sustainably treating any animals involved in the process. The following methods and materials are prohibited:
- synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides
- sewage sludge used as fertilizer
- antibiotics or growth hormones for livestock
- using irradiation as a form of pest or disease management
- using genetic engineering technology (GMOs) in an effort to improve yields or resistance to disease and pests
Organic farming is more than just a list of prohibited substances. In lieu of synthetic substances used by modern farms, organic growers look to other methods and techniques to solve the same problems the synthetic chemicals do. Below are some examples of acceptable farming practices that are common for contemporary organic farms:
- regular plant rotation maintains high soil quality while also interrupting cycles of pests or disease
- cover crops prevent the erosion of soil and the reduction of soil quality when sections of land aren’t in use
- mulch can help control weeds while using fewer herbicides
- insect traps can help control pest problems while using fewer pesticides
- provide livestock with healthy living conditions and access to outdoor spaces
- use pasture feeding for at least 30% of animals’ nutritional needs
- when necessary, provide organic feed for animals
The USDA organic certification process is a multi-step procedure that involves close coordination with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. After adopting the practices and applying for certification, an accredited certifying agent visits the site and inspects all facilities and practices to verify compliance with organic regulations. Once a farm has become a certified USDA organic producer, the status needs to be maintained and regularly reviewed. Each year the producer must do an annual review and inspection process to ensure that standards are still being met.
Silva Offers Certified Organic Ingredients
Silva International is a proud provider of premium dried ingredients that are sourced from only the highest quality farms and facilities. One of our most important commitments is to partner with you in your effort to deliver excellent products to your customers. We know you need high-quality, ready-to-eat or ready-to-cook ingredients you can trust, and our job is to manage all the details and get you what you need to succeed.
Part of that commitment is providing certified organic and non-GMO options for a variety of our products. These ingredients are given the organic label by QAI, an organic certification agency that is accredited by the USDA. Our production facilities are also certified as part of the USDA National Organic Program (USDA NOP), and this gives us great flexibility in producing organic ingredients in various cut sizes to meet any of your application needs.
If you would like more information about the many organic food products we offer, or if you have any other needs, please contact us today. Our team is eager to speak with you and find out how we can help!