What is Organic

sun prairie organic logoCertified organic products are grown and processed in accordance with specific guidelines and standards, as established by a certifying agency. Adherence to the standards is verified annually through a third party inspection. Detailed records must be maintained documenting farming practices, materials use, purchases, inventories and sales. Through the use of lot numbers, certified organic product can be tracked from the shelf to the field of origin. Materials use is strictly regulated in certified organic production.

Prohibited materials include:

  • Genetically engineered organisms and their derivatives in any form or any stage of production, processing and handling
  • Synthetic pesticides
  • Sewage sludge
  • Food irradiation

Consumers are frequently misled by the words “organic” and “certified organic” on labeling. It is important to find a certification agency seal on the label. If not found, you will need to search for the vendor and request the organic certificate pertaining to that item. Some example agencies are:

  • O.C.I.A. (Organic Crop Improvement Association Intl.)
  • S.A.A. (Sustainable Agriculture Association of Alberta)

A certified organic farm is required to work towards:

  • Optimum soil fertility
  • Enhancing biological diversity
  • Minimizing erosion and water pollution
  • Establishing living conditions for animals that are appropriate for the species

The ideal is to create a self-sustaining farm ecosystem with a minimum of outside inputs. The main goal is to work with natural processes such as nutrient cycling and pest/predator relationships.

Production using organic fruit trees is much the same as raising organic vegetables, but is more difficult. You find the same principles, though. It begins for trees with healthy dirt as it does with other crops. Orchard maintenance history goes from fully manual labor through the use of herbicides and tractors. Weed control before chemicals was done via horse drawn equipment and hand-pulling. Soil compaction was not an issue and growing ground biodiversity was a given. When herbicides and tractors became prevalent, orchardists experienced erosion and soil compaction beyond that acceptable for proper tree growth. A decline in tree branch and root development and soil microorganisms meant lessened yield and a reduction in overall tree health. It didn’t take an arborist or tree expert (website) to tell the growers what the problems were.

orchard tree alley cropOrchardists began planting other crops (alley) under their stands of fruit trees. The organic material derived from these alley crops boosted soil structure, soil aeration, moisture absorption and the uptake of nutrients. These factors helped deliver better tree health and root development. Growing an orchard organically was the best way to produce fruit.

Soil management is based on optimizing soil life through diverse crop rotations, which include elements such as nitrogen-fixing legume crops or till down of legume green manures. Additional tools for building healthy soil may be the use of compost, composted manures, or rock powders.

A certified organic processing facility must maintain the organic integrity of the product. This means no commingling with conventional materials during storage, processing, or transport; and no contamination with substances such as sanitation or pest control agents. Organic processing should strive to retain the nutritional value of food. Physical and biological processes are preferred as compared to chemical methods. Even though “certified organic” processed food may contain up to 5% of non-organic ingredients, the latter must be from an approved list of materials. Certified organic processing facilities and products must comply with all federal, provincial and industry regulations.

Along with the increased interest in human organic foods, many pet owners are thinking about what to feed their dogs and cats. The standards for true organic domestic animal foods are not crystal clear. Some organizations such as The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) are helping. It is a voluntary group of federal, local and state organizations otherwise empowered to regulate animal feed distribution and sales. If you are concerned about what is fed your pet at your boarding kennel, usually you can bring your own food. Otherwise ask them about what they feed. See organic pet food for more on pet foods. Guidelines are provided by the AAFCO to help states build their own regulations on pet foods but have no enforcement authority against boarding kennels or veterinary clinics that claim to abide by those guidelines.

For more information about Organic Certification feel free to contact:

Llizabet K. Dwwyor, M.Sc., P.Ag., Organic Specialist and Inspector.

To learn more about Materials Use and Organic Standards, please visit the following web sites:

  • Organic Materials Review Institute http://www.omri.org
  • International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements http://www.ifoam.org
  • Organic Trade Association https://www.ota.com/
  • Canadian Organic Advisory Board http://www.coab.ca