[This article was previously published in the summer issue of The Cultivator, Cornucopia’s quarterly newsletter.]
by Melody Morrell, Data Analyst & Research Specialist at The Cornucopia Institute
The Cornucopia Institute is proud to represent thousands of members within the good food movement. Our research and educational efforts support the integrity of the organic label. Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions posed on our social media:
Can we trust the USDA organic seal; what about local? What’s more important?
The organic label is the most stringently regulated label on foods in the marketplace. If you have access to local organic food, you can meet your farmer, learn how your food is grown, and enjoy the ultimate in freshness, nutrition, and community building!
Although Cornucopia takes issue with less-than-satisfactory oversight by the USDA, allowing “organic” factory farms to operate illegally and imports through without thorough scrutiny, we strongly recommend all certified organics over conventionally produced food.
Cornucopia recommends local, certified organic producers when possible, and we provide scorecards on our website to choose truly authentic organic brands from your market.
Do organic farmers use pesticides?
Organic farmers start by incorporating management practices that eliminate the need for pesticides, including crop rotation, high in-field crop diversity, resistant varieties, and healthy soil to avoid the use of pesticides. As a last resort, in cases when there is a disease or pest outbreak, there are a few approved pesticides that have been rigorously evaluated for their safety and impact on human health and the environment. Examples include botanical-based insecticides and soaps for insect control and copper or sulfur-based fungicides.
What’s more important, looking for the organic seal or the non-GMO verified logo?
By definition, GMOs are strictly prohibited in organic farming and food production. Perhaps even more importantly, organic farmers do not use synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or fertilizers to grow crops or feed, and they cannot administer antibiotics, growth hormones, and many other banned drugs to livestock. They are mandated to improve soil health and allow their livestock outdoor access, resulting not only in safer food, but food of superior nutritional quality.
Non-GMO products are only verified not to contain genetically modified (GMO) ingredients. Non-GMO farmers do use synthetic agrochemicals and petrochemical-based fertilizers. They are not required to allow their livestock access to the outdoors or pasture, and are not restricted from administering a myriad of pharmaceuticals prohibited from use in organics.
Why should I pay the extra price for organic? Can’t I just buy natural and rinse my produce?
When you buy organic, you are paying for superior environmental stewardship, a more humane animal husbandry model, and financially sustainable support for many more family farmers. Lacking any set of governing standards, natural products likely use many conventional farming practices.
Rinsing is not sufficient to remove all contamination from pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, and other toxins. Some modern pesticides act systemically, and their residues can be found in every cell of the plant, not just on the surface.