What exactly is organic?
There is much confusion about what is and what isn’t organic. One misconception is that it refers to farming practices only. Organic is an adjective that applies not just to growers (organic farming) but to processors and retailers as well. For example, organic flour is from organically grown wheat, which has been organically milled.
Although there is not an official definition, the concept of organic tends to focus more on the overall agricultural and processing approach than on the chemical or physical properties of the food. There is an emphasis on sustainable agricultural practices such as crop rotation, composting, energy conservation, and erosion prevention, to provide long term protection of the soil, ecosystem, and ground water supply. It’s a culture supported by all who value environmental quality.
What are some of the key organic growing requirements?
In general, organic farmers do not use synthetic pest controls and use crop rotation to minimize insects and crop diseases. More specifically:
- no fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, growth stimulators, or fungicides (not on the approved list) can be applied for a minimum of three years prior to harvest;
- a five-year crop and field history record, including financial records, must be maintained;
- lab analysis for soil nutrients and soil residues are required. Plant tissue tests and water analysis may be required for certification of some crops;
- a long-term plan for organic management must be in place. This includes plans for fertilizer, pesticide, weed and water management.
What are some of the key organic processing requirements?
Flower millers must be certified as an organic processor. This requires:
- a yearly inspection of the production facility by a third party certification group and compliance with standards;
- no synthetic ingredients can be added during processing. Inspectors also check sanitation practices and look for potential contamination by prohibited substances, including packaging and storage containers;
- all product labels meet the organic standards of the certifying agency;
- records must be maintained to ensure compliance with organic guidelines. This includes procedures for keeping organic foods separate from non-organic foods and records, which show the chain of custody of the raw materials.
What do we mean by certified?
In order to use a label on a food product that says certified organic, an independent agency must verify that the product meets or exceeds specific organic standards. The standards and criteria for many of these agencies are very similar.
To establish minimum organic standards and to create an organic certification program, Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) as part of the 1990 Farm Bill. A federal definition and national minimum standards will provide assurance to customers and will preserve the integrity of the “certified organically grown” claim.
Do organic flours cost more?
Overall, prices for organic foods are understandably higher than non-organic foods. The higher prices are a reflection of the long-term strategies of the organic farmer, not to mention their risk and investment. There is also a significant cost associated with obtaining and maintaining organic certification for both the grower and processor as previously outlined.