USDA Organic: What’s behind the label?
Do you ever walk through the grocery store and feel instantly overwhelmed by all that there is to read? There’s no shortage of “claims” on food packaging. Whether it be “all natural!” or “non-GMO” or “no artificial colors,” there’s never a shortage of colorful descriptors. All these call outs can be a lot to take in. How do you make decisions when there’s so much confusion between labels? How do you know that you’re making the best choices for your family and not missing anything? If only there was a way to get past all the chatter to understand what’s actually important…
One food label that doesn’t make all that noise is the USDA organic seal. That’s because this one simple label stands for a lot. The USDA organic seal lessens the burden you might feel browsing the grocery store aisles as it ensures that the food item is being held to nationally recognized policies for organic standards set by the National Organic Program in coordination with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It’s truly the gold standard of labels you can trust!
What does the organic seal really mean?
The USDA organic seal means the absence of GMOs, antibiotics, growth hormones, artificial colors, artificial flavors, preservatives and more. The Organic Center states, “organic is the most heavily regulated and closely monitored agriculture system in the U.S.” When you see this label, it’s as if you’re seeing all those descriptive callouts in one with the proper protocols and oversight in place to guard its high qualifications. No more guesswork!
What else does it stand for?
Additionally, the use of the USDA organic seal means farmers have grown and processed food by following established USDA guidelines to ensure sustainable practices and animal welfare. Rest assured, the organic certification process is rigorous! Organic farmers are required to maintain detailed plans and undergo thorough annual inspections in order to use the organic seal.
When it comes to organic farming, Only Organic gathered some common strategies and tactics that go into earning the use of the organic seal. Here’s even more of what’s behind the label:
Soil: According to the Organic Farming Research Foundation, organic farmers maintain the health of their soil by using animal manure or compost and other organic material as natural fertilizers instead of applying synthetic fertilizers. Biological fertilizers like compost, release nutrients slowly, build up organic soil matter, increase the capacity of soil to retain moisture and reduce leaching of nitrates into groundwater.
Pest Management: Not all bugs found in organic farms are bad! The Rodale Institute explains how organic farmers approach pest problems from a natural and biodiversity standpoint. One tactic is to introduce beneficial insects ––such as ladybugs–– to help control pests. Additionally, pheromones and trapping can be used as well. Bats can also be helpful when it comes to pest management.
Cover crops and crop rotation: Cover crops such as clover, rye, and wheat are planted between growing seasons to help replenish the soil with nutrients and prevent soil erosion. They also help maintain populations of beneficial insects. Cover crops can control weeds by smothering and shading them and outcompeting them for nutrients. No need for prohibited pesticide use!
Moreover, organic farmers typically do not grow the same crop on the same field year after year. Crop rotationnaturally replenishes the soil because different plants contribute varying nutrients to the soil. Disrupting the habitats of insect pests and weeds helps control them.
Buffers: Organic farmers designate the edges of their organic crops with buffer zones. They are designed to separate organic and conventional crops. Land used as buffers is managed in accordance with organic practices, but the crops grown on them aren’t sold as organic because some plants in the buffer may have been exposed to genetically engineered crops or chemicals used in conventional agriculture.
So the next time you’re in the grocery store and you’re struggling to block out all that label ‘racket’ from some of the products you pass by, remember to look for the USDA Organic label. It may not be making all the noise, but it sure has a lot to say!