Organic is as Organic Says?


Organic is as Organic Says?

Today the United States and Japan announced an agreement between our two countries to make it easier to import each other’s organic food. See According to this news report:

While most of the two countries’ organic standards are the same, Japan has not allowed its organics to be produced with ligonum sulfonate, a substance used in post-harvest fruit production, or alkali-extracted humic acid, a fertilizer used to help grow a variety of organic crops. The United States allows both substances.

Wow, “ligonum sulfonate” and “alkali-extracted humic acid” don’t sound very “organic” to me.  Which led me to wonder if “organic” really means what I think it is supposed to mean.  It turns out it doesn’t in many circumstances.

As part of the 1990 Farm Bill, Congress passed the Organic Food Production Act (OFPA) and in particular the National Organic Program (NOP).  The NOP is responsible for the implementation of the U.S. National Organics Standards (set by the National Organic Standards Board) and to accredit state agencies and private organizations that certify organic producers and oversee the enforcement.  The key is the word “certify”.  When you buy a product labeled “organic” you have to check to see if it is “certified” to comply with the national standards for organic foods and products. So there are food and other products being sold in the U.S. claiming to be “organic” when in fact they are not certified as such under federal law. For example, some personal care products are labelled “organic” when in fact, they contain questionable chemicals not normally permitted in the federal standards for “organic” agriculture. Unfortunately, being “certified” may not pass the test either.

USDA OrganicIn 2010, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Office of Inspector General issued a report which studied the federal government’s enforcement of “organic” standards. That report can be found at  Let me summarize that report for you: the USDA’s enforcement of “organic” standards is pretty awful. For example, federal law requires periodic residue testing and the USDA’s Inspector General found that there is no such testing program in place. It’s sad news for natural food consumers.

This does not mean that foods certified as “organic” are not and that foods that are not certified as “organic” do not meet federal standards. It means that you have to look closer at what you buy to assure that you are getting what you think you are getting. If a product is “certified”, under today’s current federal enforcement procedures, it means that natural food consumers still have to look closer at ingredients and do some research. A great resources for organic consumers is the website of the Organic Trade Association at This website provides consumers with ways to find certified organic products, producers, ingredients and more. It also is a good way to keep up with news and other items of interest to organic consumers.


Kirk Schroder / Food Advocate /