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Dutchess_III's avatar

What does "organic" mean when it comes to foods?

Asked by Dutchess_III (26666 points ) June 10th, 2012

I hear that word bandied about a lot. I would think “organic” would apply to any food that was once a living thing and now it’s not.

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18 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

It means it meets USDA or state standards on being grown with organic materials and with no manufactured fertilizers, pesticides, or soil amendments.

From the USDA:

Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used

Dutchess_III's avatar

So how do they keep the bugs off of the crops?

zenvelo's avatar

They use natural repellents, natural predators, and natural techniques like netting over crops, or soapy water. There is no need to put a ton of poison onto your food.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Soap water can make you sick! What types of “natural repellents” are there?

elbanditoroso's avatar

Absolutely nothing, in reality.

I could call my left ear organic, and it would be legal.

Yes, there are the various USDA rules and regs, but the fact is that there is next to no real enforcement of the rules and regs, and so it is essentially meaningless.

Here is what it is supposed to mean, if the inspectors were funded to do their jobs:
http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3004446&acct=nopgeninfo

Dutchess_III's avatar

@elbanditoroso I was wondering how in the world they could enforce it anyway! So in your opinion, it it more of an idea or a wish than a reality? Are there discernible differences in the taste and nutritional value between commercially grown crops and “organic” crops?

ratboy's avatar

Less than 80% plastic.

elbanditoroso's avatar

I think it’s a merchandising gimmick – a means of raising prices on the consumer.

My humble opinion: organically grown lettuce (as an example) tastes no different from any other. And it is probably cleaner. Free range chicken tastes the same (to me) as any other.

I see this as marketing without substance.

Aster's avatar

I always thought organic meant no chemical fertilizers were used , no chemical insect repellants. Did I spell that right?

Dutchess_III's avatar

I think so!

OK, but they have to use something or they’d lose their crops to bugs. When a food is labeled “organic” how do we know they’re telling the truth?

zenvelo's avatar

In California there is regular inspection of the farms, and testing of the foods.

@Dutchess_III, you can wash the soap off of leaves. But you can’t wash the pesticides out of the food. Here are some more organic pesticides for use at home. The residue from these (if not washed) will not poison you or leave chemicals in your body.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@zenvelo Do you have any links proving that the minute pesticides in the veggies are harmful to us? Also, if the soap wouldn’t soak in, why would the pesticides? Why can you just rinse the soap off the veggies and not the pesticides?

Neizvestnaya's avatar

In the 1990’s a local supermarket was all over TV by talking about it’s “organic” grown foods. Their criteria was not to use any disputed commercial chemicals (at the time Alar) and chemical residue in sampled foods had to come in under the USDA standard.

For the most part, to me, “organic” is a marketing gimmick

zenvelo's avatar

@Dutchess_III Here is an article the fact that organic food has “not been proven” to be better for you, but also shows that pesticides are shown in the urine of kids eating non-organic fruit.

Some fruits and vegetables don’t take up a lot of pesticides and chemical fertilizers; others just soak it right in. Apples are very susceptible to pesticides. Here is a list of what is okay to eat commercially farmed and what isn’t>

And remember we’re not just talking about pesticides, but also commercial fertilizers and genetically modified foods. Monsanto has “Round Up resistant” corn, which is designed to be sprayed and then used for human consumption, even though there have been not studies on how we might digest such food. Round Up is carcinogenic, and has all kinds of warnings about exposure even to skin, yet Monsanto wants to use it on food.

zenvelo's avatar

@Dutchess_III About washing the soap-off: the chemicals are absorbed because of the molecular size, the soap doesn’t absorb like the chemicals. It’s the same reason soap doesn’t soak in while you wash your hand, but a nicotine patch will deliver nicotine through the skin for an extended period of time.

wundayatta's avatar

THere are processes that farms have to go through to be certified organic. We tend to trust that the organic certification agency is doing its job, but we could be being overly credulous.

Still, most organic farms are small and close to where they sell their produce and so most organic produce does taste better. But that’s because it’s fresher. If that is the only thing that happens as a result of organic certification, I think it is worth it.

serenade's avatar

USDA Organic refers to a standard of growing and distributing produce that has been handled much as has been described above. The term was kind of hijacked by Big Ag as it was being developed, so there are some loopholes. From what I understand, it’s something like 85% towards what one might think of as “pure” organic.

Oregon Tilth Certified Organic is a stronger standard and significantly more “pure,” although I don’t know specifics.

There are some spray pesticides that are USDA Organic compliant, but I’m not sure how that works. I just know they exist.

Also, USDA Organic has some application in the distribution chain. For example, produce has to be warehoused and displayed for sale in USDA Organic certified spaces. If they are mislabeled or mixed with non-organic produce, they can no longer be sold as USDA Organic.

Foods/producers grown outside the U.S. can also be certified USDA Organic, FYI.

—- Forgot to mention that the food has to be grown on land that is free of pesticide use. If a grower is seeking certification on land that had seen pesticide use then it is usually referred to as “transitional,” and must wait out a period of a few years of pesticide-free production.

One example of pest control: a grower I know uses plastic sheeting to heat the ground temperature a few degrees. This allows him to plant squash earlier than the typical growing period. The effect is that he is harvesting squash before the squash bug larvae hatch and start feeding on the plant. (Oddly, they go for the plant and not the squash itself.) Since he’s already harvested the squash, he doesn’t care if the plant goes. Then, once the larvae have done their thing, they’re essentially done for the season, so he’s free to plant more squash without worry.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

No chemicals were used in its growth. It’s the same with organic meats. No growth hormones were given, no chemicals in the animals’ food, etc… Purely natural.

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