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All Islands Health Talk Organic At A Glance

Organic At A Glance

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Organic refers to the way agricultural products—foods and fibers—are grown and processed. It is an ecological system of management that at its core relies on a healthy rich soil to produce strong plants that resist pests and diseases.

Organic farming prohibits the use of toxic and persistent chemicals in favor of more “earth friendly” practices that work in harmony with nature and preserve biological diversity—the multitude and variety of life.


Organic Crop Production

• Land must have no prohibited substances applied to it for at least three years before the harvest of an organic crop.

• Use of genetic engineering, irradiation, and sewage sludge is prohibited.

• Soil fertility and crop nutrients must be managed through tillage and cultivation practices, supplemented with animal and crop waste materials and allowed synthetic materials.

• Preference must be given to use of organic seeds and other plant stock, but a farmer can use non-organic seeds and plant stock under certain conditions.

• Crop pests, weeds, and diseases must be controlled primarily through management practices including physical, mechanical, and biological controls. When these practices are not sufficient, a biological, botanical, or synthetic substance from a specific list of approved synthetics may be used. Organic Livestock

• Antibiotics and synthetic hormones are prohibited.

• 100% organic produced feed is required with some vitamins allowed.

• Animals for slaughter must be raised organically from birth, or no later than the 2 nd day of life for poultry.

• Vaccines are allowed.

• Access to outdoors, including access to pasture for ruminants is required. Animals can be temporarily confined only for reasons of health, safety, or to protect soil or water quality.

• Withholding treatment from a sick animal is prohibited; animals treated with a prohibited medication (ex. antibiotics) must be removed from the organic operation.

*Adapted from U.S. Organic Agriculture Gaining Ground by Catherine Greene, Economic Research Service of USDA, Agricultural Outlook, April 2000


Organic standards require that land on which organic food or fibers are grown must not be treated with any prohibited substances (such as toxic and persistent chemicals and fertilizers) for three years prior to certification.

Farmers and processors must keep detailed records of methods and materials used in growing and/or processing organic products, and be able to verify the origin of the raw materials from finished product all the way back to the fields from which they came.

An audit trail must document that organic and non-organic products are not co-mingled anywhere in the chain from farmer to consumer.

A third-party USDA-accredited certifier must inspect all methods and materials annually.

Organic farmers use a variety of techniques to build healthy soil and to grow a diversity of crops.


Organic practices include:

Crop rotation. Conventional farming can contribute to soil depletion by growing the same crops year after year. Organic farming, by alternating the kinds of crops grown in each field, builds healthier soil. Crop rotation also eliminates pest breeding grounds created by growing the same crop annually.

Planting cover crops. Cover crops such as rye, vetch and clover add nutrients to the soil, prevent weeds and increase organic matter to feed soil microorganisms. Soil with high organic matter resists erosion and holds water better, requiring less irrigation.

Releasing beneficial insects. Many insects are highly beneficial in preying on pests and helping farm ecosystems eliminate the need for chemical insecticides that can remain in the soil for years or leach into ground water.

Adding composted manure. Manure, processed for safety according to strict guidelines, and composted plant wastes, help the soil retain moisture and nutrients. Just as falling leaves fertilize forest soil, composted manures and plant material replenish the farm soil.

Organic is not simply a return to traditional agricultural practices. Innovative, cutting edge, technological solutions to problems are key to organic farming.

For example, many organic orchardists, unable to use synthetic persistent pesticides to prevent worms in apples, now use a “pheromone mating disruptive”. Throughout the orchard a series of small tubes are hung containing a scent matching that of the female moth. The scent confuses the male moth preventing him from mating with the female and producing the larvae which ultimately can lead to a damaged apple. The approach is highly technical, non-toxic and species specific.

Livestock can also be raised under an organic management system. Organic livestock must be fed organically grown feed; no antibiotics or synthetic hormones are allowed; and access to the outdoors is required. Successful organic livestock farming depends on preventing illness and maintaining strong animals through good nutrition and minimal stress.

Processed products can also bear the organic label. To do so, they must contain a minimum of 95 percent certified organic ingredients. The remaining 5 percent of ingredients must be natural ingredients, or synthetic ingredients approved by the USDA, and cannot be genetically modified.

It may be helpful to think of organic as a process—not a product. The organic label indicates how the product was grown and processed—under an organic system of ecological management.


Organic products are everywhere today. They’re sold at farmers’ markets, supermarkets, and the finest gourmet shops, in every department from dairy to produce to the snack foods and frozen foods aisles. In fact, there’s an organic choice in almost every food and beverage category and many fiber categories, including such products as certified organic chocolates, cotton sheets and even beer and wine.

Organic products comprise one of the fastest-growing segments of the food industry, with growth rates of at least 20 percent annually throughout the 1990s for a total U.S. market of about $6.6 billion in 2000, and expectations of continued rapid growth.

Although at present less than 1 percent of U.S. farmland is under organic cultivation, certified organic cropland in the United States more than doubled during the 1990s.

With new national standards for organic labels, consumers are likely to show increased confidence, further driving sales, and increasing acreage under organic cultivation. The expansion of the organic marketplace is not limited to the United States. In fact, the organic movement is a global trend with exceptional success in Japan, Britain, and other European Union countries. Global retail sales of organic products have been forecasted at $21.5 billion for the year 2000.

One example of organic’s success in European markets is in Austria where over 8.4 percent of the farmland is under organic cultivation.

As concerns continue to grow about damage to our soil, water and air from conventional farming, about the health consequences of pesticides in food and the environment, and about genetically modified ingredients in the food supply, demand for organic foods is growing. Around the world, consumers are showing that they want, and will often pay more for, products that are healthy, wholesome, flavorful, and grown and produced in ways that protect and restore the environment for a sustainable future.

This guide will help you understand the fundamentals of organic agriculture—exactly what ‘organic’ means, what organic doesn’t mean, the best reasons to support organic, what the national organic standards mean to you, and answers to other basic questions, please see related links.


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