Organic refers to the way agricultural products-food and fiber-are grown and processed. Organic food production is based on a system of farming that maintains and replenishes soil fertility without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers. Organic foods are minimally processed without artificial ingredients, preservatives, or irradiation to maintain the integrity of the food.
The following excerpt is from the definition of "organic" that the National Organic Standards Board adopted in April 1995: "Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony."
"Certified Organic" means the item has been grown according to strict uniform standards that are verified by independent state or private organizations. Certification includes inspections of farm fields and processing facilities, detailed record keeping, and periodic testing of soil and water to ensure that growers and handlers are meeting the standards which have been set.
The federal government set standards for the production, processing and certification of organic food in the Organic Food Production Act of 1990 (OFPA). The National Organic Standards Board was then established to develop guidelines and procedures to regulate all organic crops. The U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) during December 2000 unveiled detailed regulations to implement OFPA. These took effect on April 21, 2001, with an 18-month implementation period ending October 2002. At that time, any food labeled organic must meet these national organic standards. USDA's National Organic Program oversees the program.
Conventional agricultural methods can cause water contamination. Beginning in May 1995, a network of environmental organizations, including the Environmental Working Group, began testing tap water for herbicides in cities across the United States' Corn Belt, and in Louisiana and Maryland. The results revealed widespread contamination of tap water with many different pesticides at levels that present serious health risks. In some cities, herbicides in tap water exceed federal lifetime health standards for weeks or months at a time. The organic farmer's elimination of polluting chemicals and nitrogen leaching, in combination with soil building, works to prevent contamination, and protects and conserves water resources.
Prices for organic foods reflect many of the same costs as conventional items in terms of growing, harvesting, transportation and storage. Organically produced foods must meet stricter regulations governing all of these steps, so the process is often more labor- and management-intensive, and farming tends to be on a smaller scale. There is also mounting evidence that if all the indirect costs of conventional food production-cleanup of polluted water, replacement of eroded soils, costs of health care for farmers and their workers-were factored into the price of food, organic foods would cost the same or, more likely, be cheaper.
U. S. sales of organic food and beverages have grown from $1 billion in 1990 to an estimated $20 billion in 2007. The market for these goods is projected to reach nearly $23.6 billion in 2008, and grow an average of 18% each year from 2007-2010. The adoption of national standards for certification is expected to open up new markets for U. S. organic producers. Internationally, organic sales continue to grow as well.