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Organic Foods - FAQ

1. What is organic food?
Organic refers not to the food itself, but how it is produced. Organic food production is based on a system of farming that maintains and replenishes the fertility of the soil. Organic foods are produced without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Organic foods are minimally processed to maintain the integrity of the food without artificial ingredients, preservatives or irradiation.

2. How is "certified organic" food different from other organic food?
"Certified" means that the food has been grown according to strict uniform standards that are verified by independent state or private organizations. Certification includes inspections of farm fields and processing facilities, detailed record keeping, and periodic testing of soil and water to ensure that growers and handlers are meeting the standards that have been established.

3. Who regulates the certified organic claims?
The federal government set standards for the production, processing and certification of organic food in the Organic Food Production Act of 1990. A National Organic Standards Board was established at that time and now is developing the guidelines and procedures that will regulate all crops from produce, grains, meat, dairy and eggs to processed foods. The law was activated April 21, 2001. Those who grow or market "organic" products were required to comply with the rule as of October 21, 2002. The Act provides that a person may sell or label an agricultural product as organically produced only if the product has been produced and handled in accordance with provisions of the Act and these regulations. The U.S. Department of Agriculture oversees the program.

4. Is organic food completely free of pesticide residues?
Organic food is not produced with toxic synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. However, there are some instances where residues may be carried to organic fields from neighboring conventional farms and environmental pollution.

5. Do organic farmers ever use pesticides?
Yes. However, only natural pesticides are permitted with restrictions as a last resort when growers are threatened with crop failure. Organic farmers' primary strategy is "prevention." By building healthy soils, healthy plants are better able to resist disease and insects. When pest populations get out of balance, growers will try various options like insect predators, mating disruption, traps and barriers. If these fail, permission will be granted by the certifier to apply botanical pesticides under restricted conditions. "Botanicals" are derived from plants and are broken down quickly by oxygen and sunlight.

6. Is organic food better for you?
There is no scientific evidence at this time to suggest that organically produced foods are more nutritious. However, well-balanced soils grow strong healthy plants that many people believe taste better and contain more nutrients. Many restaurant chefs across the country are using organic produce because they think it tastes better. Organic growers often select varieties to grow for their flavor, not only for their appearance.

7. Why does organic food cost more?
Prices for organic foods reflect many of the same costs as conventional foods in terms of growing, harvesting, transportation and storage. Organically produced food must meet stricter regulations governing all of these steps so the process is often more labor- and management-intensive, and farming tends to be on a smaller scale.

There is also mounting evidence that if all the indirect costs of conventional food production (cleanup of polluted water, replacement of eroded soils, cost of health care for farmers and their workers) were factored in to the price of food, organic foods would cost the same or, more likely, be less expensive.

8. Isn't organic food just a fad?
Not a chance. Sales of organic produce totaled $612.14 million in 1995. Sales of all organic food totaled $2.4 billion in 1995 and the market has grown an average rate of 25% each year. The adoption of national standards for certification will open up many new markets for U.S. organic producers.

Today, approximately 2% of the U.S. food supply is grown using organic methods. By the year 2000, analysts expect that to reach 10%. Worldwide, there are now almost 600 organic producer associations in 70 countries. Nations like Japan and Germany are fast becoming important international organic food markets.

9. Where can I find organic foods?
Organic foods are found at natural food stores, health food sections and regular produce departments of supermarkets, farmers' markets, and by mail. There is an increasing variety of organic processed foods making their way to market: baby foods, cereals, snacks, cookies, juices, peanut butter, yogurt, soups and even frozen meals.

10. Why does good organic fertilizer cost more than inorganic types?
It's more difficult to make. For example, the pelleted fish fertilizer contains ground fish scraps, fish bone meal, feather meal, blood meal, alfalfa meal, and sulfate of potash. Blending all of these different ingredients together isn't easy. However, when you consider that gradual-release organic fertilizers mostly end up being used by plants, while less expensive chemical fertilizers mostly evaporate or wash out of the root zone, then organics make better economic sense.

11. Why worry about bacteria, fungi, and other soil microorganisms?
In healthy soil, billions of these little soil critters are constantly digesting organic matter, transforming nitrogen and other elements into forms that plants can use, and when they die their nutritious little bodies become a perfect feast for plants. This is why it doesn't make sense to kill them with chemicals or inorganic fertilizers. A biologically active soil is plant-friendly!

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For more information about Diet and Nutrition, please visit Holisticonline.com Nutrition Infocenter.

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