These days lots of things claim to be organic or sustainable. How do you know who to believe?
About Organic Certification
Organic certification is a certification process for producers of organic food and other organic agricultural products. In general, any business directly involved in food production can be certified, including seed suppliers, farmers, food processors, retailers and restaurants. Requirements vary from country to country, and generally involve a set of production standards for growing, storage, processing, packaging and shipping that include:
- avoidance of most synthetic chemical inputs (e.g. fertilizer, pesticides, antibiotics, food additives, etc), genetically modified organisms, irradiation, and the use of sewage sludge;
- use of farmland that has been free from chemicals for a number of years (often, three or more);
- keeping detailed written production and sales records (audit trail);
- maintaining strict physical separation of organic products from non-certified products;
- undergoing periodic on-site inspections
In some countries, certification is overseen by the government, and commercial use of the term organic is legally restricted. Certified organic producers are also subject to the same agricultural, food safety and other government regulations that apply to non-certified producers.
USDA's National Organic Program regulates the standards for any farm, wild crop harvesting, or handling operation that wants to sell an agricultural product as organically produced. The National Organic Program (NOP) develops, implements, and administers national production, handling, and labeling standards for organic agricultural products. The NOP also accredits the certifying agents (foreign and domestic) who inspect organic production and handling operations to certify that they meet USDA standards.
The Japanese Agricultural Standard (JAS) of Organic Agricultural Products is a standard that aims to establish the criteria of production methods for organic agricultural products. Article 4 of the Standard lists detailed provisions relating to production methods including the criteria for seeds and seedlings planted, control of noxious animals and plants and management concerning transportation, selection, processing, packaging and other processes. Criteria regarding the labelling of names of organic agricultural products are listed under Article 5. The Standard also contains tables that relate to the criteria as regards to fertilizers and soil improvement substances and agricultural chemicals.
In Australia, the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) is the controlling body for organic certification because there are no domestic standards for organic produce within Australia. Currently the government only becomes involved with organic certification at export, meaning AQIS is the default certification agency. Although there is no system for monitoring the labeling of organic produce sold within Australia, this primarily affects the retail public.
How to Know What You're Getting
When you're in the grocery store checking out the fruits and veggies, look for the little stickers. They're not just for decoration. No, they'll actually tell you about the food.
- A four-digit number means it's conventionally grown.
- A five-digit number beginning with 9 means it's organic.
- A five-digit number beginning with 8 means it's genetically modified.