Sometimes people ask me about organic foods labeling. Many aren’t sure if something is really organic or not. I must admit modern, food processing corporations have done their best to make people distrustful and to keep things confusing. What has made things even more confusing is the controversy about the USDA organic foods labeling. The whole story behind the people putting pressure on the Federal government to come up with a standardized, organic foods labeling system is the best example of what happens when people turn to the federal government to solve their problems.
Originally here in California before the USDA organic foods labeling I trusted in the California Organic Foods Act and the Oregon Tilth Act for organic foods produced in California and Oregon. The primary certification organization in California for certifying foods as organic is the CCOF, The California Cerfitied Organic Farmers. The CCOF certifies the crop, the land on which it is grown, the farmer and the food processor. There is a three year process to transition a farm from conventional to organic. Another major certifying organization that I trust for organic foods labeling is QAI, Quality Assurance International. Some organic food companies, also, belong to organizations such as the Organic Trade Association. A lot of the trust comes from shopping in natural food stores, rather than supermarkets and reading labels. One can learn so much from reading ingredients lists and reading labels. A lot of these companies that market and distribute organic foods include valuable information on their packages and their websites.
Why then did people organize and lobby to put pressure on the federal government to develop a national, standardized, federal organics food label? It is because a lot of states did not have strict regulations on labeling foods organic. In fact at the natural food co-op where I shop they stocked up at one time on gallon bottles of aloe vera juice that were labeled 100% pure, organic aloe vera juice and had a large symbol on them that said it was certified organic by the Texas Department of Agriculture. It was interesting that this organic certification label by the Texas Department of Agriculture looked a lot like the US Department of Agriculture logo. Upon reading the ingredients list on the bottle of aloe vera juice I found that it contained preservatives: sodium nitrate and sodium benzoate. This means that this product was not 100% pure and did not even qualify to be labeled “natural” much less organic. When I pointed this out to the people at the co-op they all said that they had thought that the certification label was the USDA, not the Texas Department of Agriculture. The product was removed from the shelves.
What happened when people organized and lobbied to have standardized, federal organic labeling? Not surprizingly the major food and chemical industries lobbied and tried to put pressure on the federal government to have less strict standards for organic labeling than many states had and wanted the federal labeling to supersede the state certification. This would mean that foods could bear labels of being organic that did not qualify as being so according to state laws even in those states that had stricter standards. These big industries even wanted to allow foods containing biogenetically engineered (GMO) ingredients to be labeled as being organic. These corporate interests that wield great power with the federal government and the US Department of Agriculture were only held in check by a major effort of citizens organizations to save the movement to have federal organic standards.
How good is the USDA organic foods labeling? It’s pretty good but not perfect. It’s standards are lower than those originally in place in some states such as California and Oregon but are definitely better than what some states had which was practically nothing in some cases. It’s sad that these lower standards can be allowed in states that originally had higher standards. People need to learn what happens when they put something into the bureaucracy of the federal government. At least genetically modified material was not allowed. Produce and grain has to be pure organic but processed foods such as baked goods that contain several or a lot of ingredients need only contain 90 per cent organic ingredients to be able to be labeled organic. A lot of the produce in supermarkets that is labeled organic meets the bare lowest of standards to be labeled organic and so do a lot of organic food products that bear the USDA organic labels. Fortunately those of us who read labels and have been researching for a long time understand better about stricter standards. We know certain products and companies that we have always trusted. It was sad to me that some companies whose products I know and trust removed the other organic foods labeling and certifications such as the California Organic Foods Act and Oregon Tilth Laws as well as the certifications from the CCOF and QAI and now only have the USDA organic foods label. I still know and trust the products from these companies that I have respect for but those of us who are knowledgeable know that the USDA organic label is a lower standard and should not be thought of as a replacement for the original certification.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN WHEN ANIMAL PRODUCTS ARE LABELED ORGANIC? This means these animals have to be free from growth hormones and anti-bacterial agents that are injected into animals. They have to be free from harmful chemicals used in processing such as preservatives like sodium nitrate. The animals, also, have to be fed feed that is organic and free from toxic chemicals and genetically modified (GMO) materials. Some dairies advertise on their containers that they do not use rBST, a synthetic, bovine growth hormone, created by biogenetic engineering. On their packaging they say there is no known risk to humans but they have chosen not to use it on their dairy cows due to health concerns. This shows the impact from people who are health conscious who recognize the value of keeping things natural as nature intended and the simplicity of this way of thinking. In fact some studies have shown there could be an increased risk of high blood pressure to humans with rBST. Obviously we don’t need what is not natural. Organic milk is not only free of synthetic growth hormones but the cattle are fed organic grains and produce.
There are lots of meats that are labeled as natural meats. These are meats that are generally known to be of higher quality and are more natural. Sometimes this can be meat that is produced locally or perhaps is kept and shipped frozen for those who are willing to pay more for better quality meat. Organic meat has to meet higher standards and be certified. Because of all the controversy about all the growth hormones and toxins in commercially packaged chicken laws were passed and meat producers started putting out packaged chicken meat that is labeled natural. This certainly was an improvement but there have been reports that some chicken meat companies have put out packages of chicken meat labeled natural that is in violation of regulations.
When it comes to meat the same principles apply as to vegetable foods. One has to read labels and educate oneself in order to know what foods to trust. This comes with time but shopping in a natural foods store that you trust to carry good products helps.
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