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What’s the difference between buying organic and natural food?

I am often stopped and asked the difference between buying organic foods and naturally grown foods I encourage them to the following timely Extension Publication: Buying Organic – What Does It Mean? ANR 1425.  I am sharing parts of the pamphlet here:

Fact and Myth

When asked the difference between organic goods and those labeled all-natural, eco-friendly, or naturally grown, consumers may respond that these are one and the same. In reality, they are different.

In 1990, the federal Organic Foods Production Act established the National Organic Program (NOP) to support specialty crop producers,* organic farmers, and the standards for producing, handling, and processing organically grown agricultural products.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines organic as a labeling term for food and other agricultural products in much the same way as it defines labeling terms for the grading of beef, eggs, and dairy products. The organic label can only be used on products produced by NOP-approved methods, which are intended to promote and enhance biodiversity, biological cycles, and biological soil activity. They are based on the minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain, and enhance natural cycling of the farm’s ecological resources. Use of the word organic is mandated by the NOP standards.

Thus, all-natural and organic are not the same. All-natural or eco-friendly products might have been produced using some of the organic standards and principles in the pre- or postharvest of their ingredients, but these labels do not guarantee that the product complies with the federal regulations defining organic. Although organic farming and all-natural gardens can both support a local ecology, only one is certified.

What Is Certified Organic?

Certified organic is a production term referring to the NOPstandardized practices that farmers and processors use to grow and process agriculture products such as fruits, vegetables, grains, livestock, dairy, and others. Organic farmers use alternative methods and inputs for fertilization, weed control, insect and disease management, and animal health in an attempt to protect environmental resources and reduce consumer exposure to chemicals. These strict standards are voluntarily accepted and federally regulated. Organic farms are also required by law to keep detailed records and undergo an in-depth, annual oversight and certification process to verify that all standards and requirements are being met. These added regulations and requirements are part of the cost of growing certified organic products.

*Organic Foods

Organic foods are typically from farms growing specialty crops (fruits, vegetables, and other small-scale produced crops and livestock) for direct market to consumers and local markets. In Alabama and across the nation, both organic and other specialty crop farms sell to an ever-expanding market.

Pest Management for Certified Organic

For disease, weed, and insect pest problems on the farm, management practices are chosen to reduce negative environmental impacts. The NOP standards emphasize a threetiered, integrated approach, with particular emphasis on practices of level 1 and level 2. Farmers must also consult with their certifying agency to ensure that approved methods are used in the overall pest management plan. The first line of defense, level 1, is using cultural practices, such as crop rotation, cover crops, resistant plant varieties, and trap crops. Level 2 consists of adding mechanical and physical control methods, such as mulching, row covers, mowing, and others.

The last resort, or level 3, is to use pesticides. **Although certified organic products are free of common synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, certified organic producers may use approved pesticides and apply fertility amendments to their crops. Some of the more popular organically approved fertilizers include manure-based products and items mined from the earth such as lime, potassium sulfate, and sodium nitrate. Some approved pesticides include Safer Brand EndALL Insect Killer (using pyrethrum from specific plants in the daisy, or Aster, family), DiPel (using Bacillus thuringiensis, a naturally occurring soil bacterium), and Conserve Fire Ant Bait (using a byproduct of the soil bacterium Saccharopolysora spinosa).