What is Organic?

What is Organic?

Organic labels

What is Organic?
Organic refers to the way agricultural products- food and fiber- are grown and processed. It is an ecological system that at its core relies on a healthy rich soil to produce strong plants that resist pests and diseases. Organic farming prohibits the use of toxic and persistent chemicals in favor of more “earth-friendly” practices that work in harmony with nature. In the case of livestock, antibiotics are prohibited, opting instead for preventative measures for keeping animals healthy and productive. Organic production also prohibits the use of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s).
Organic practices include:

  • Crop rotation- alternating the types of crops grown in each field, which in turn prevents the depletion of the soil. Pests are also managed through crop rotation by eliminating breeding grounds built year after year with a continuous crop.
  • Planting cover crops, such as clover adds nutrients to the soil, prevents weeds, and increases organic matter in the soil. Soil with high organic matter resists erosion and holds water better, requiring less irrigation. Studies have shown that organic crops fare better than non-organic crops in times of drought and stress.
  • Releasing beneficial insects to prey on pests helps to eliminate the need for chemical insecticides that can remain in the soil for years or leach into our water supply.
  • Adding composted manure and plant wastes helps the soil retain moisture and nutrients. Just as falling leaves return nutrients to forest soil, composting replenishes the soil.
  • Preventing illness and maintaining strong animals through good nutrition and minimal stress are key to successful organic livestock farming.

Organic Practices mean:

  • No pesticides to contaminate our soil and water or injure farm workers!
  • No chemical fertilizers to runoff and contaminate our rivers, lakes, oceans and drinking water!
  • A healthier and more sustainable environment for us all!

How do I know it’s Organic?

The U.S. Organic Standard
In October of 2002, the long awaited Congressionally mandated National Organic Standards went into effect, requiring that all products labeled as organic meet stringent standards established by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Now consumers have the force of law behind all organic labeling claims, providing peace of mind that when something says it is “organic”, it will meet the strict standards set by the USDA.

These standards include:

  • Land on which organic food or fibers are grown must not have had prohibited substances applied (such as toxic and persistent chemical pesticides and fertilizers) for three years prior to certification.
  • Farmers and processors must keep detailed records of methods and materials used in growing or processing organic products.
  • A third party certifier approved by the USDA must inspect methods and materials annually.
  • All handlers and farmers are required to maintain an Organic Handling Plan detailing their management practices.

Under the USDA regulations, In order for a product to be labeled as “organic” it must contain a minimum of 95% organic ingredients.

The USDA allows for three categories of labeling organic products:
100% Organic Made with 100% organic ingredients
Organic Made with at least 95% organic ingredients, with strict restrictions on the remaining 5% including no GMOs
Made With Organic Ingredients Made with a minimum of 70% organic ingredients with strict restrictions on the remaining 30% including no GMOs
Products with less than 70 percent organic ingredients may list specific organically produced ingredients on the side panel of the package, but may not make any organic claims on the front of the package.


Any product labeled as organic in the US, must contain a minimum of 95% organic ingredients produced to the US National Organic Standards, and be verified, inspected and certified by independent state or private organizations that have been accredited by the USDA. Any product with the USDA seal must be a minimum of 95% organic.

Certification includes inspections of farms and processing facilities, detailed record keeping, and periodic testing of soil and water to ensure that growers and handlers are meeting theUSstandards. Certifiers inspect and verify that there is an audit trail tracing all organic ingredients back to the organic fields from which they were grown. All Stonyfield Farm products are third-party certified by Quality Assurance International (QAI).

Frequently Asked Questions

“I understand the idea of organic fruit and vegetables, but organic milk and yogurt? Isn’t milk already pure and natural?”
Yes. Milk is an all natural product. Organic milk means that the cows’ feed, such as corn, soy, and hay, were grown organically. In addition, organic regulations prohibit the use of antibiotics and synthetic growth hormones. Organic regulations also mandate specific humane animal standards including access to fresh air and pasture.

“Is organic food better for me and my family?”
There is no conclusive evidence at this time to suggest that organically produced foods are more nutritious. However, well-balanced soils grow strong healthy plants which many believe taste better and contain more nutrients. Also, unlike many conventional foods that are bred for appearance, many organic farmers use heirloom varieties of plants that often have been bred for superior flavor. In addition, ecological farming practices eliminate the use of toxic and persistent chemicals that can contaminate our water supplies.

“Why do organic products cost more?”
Organic products do tend to cost more than their conventional counterparts. To some extent, this is changing as production capacity and demand for organic products increase, improving production efficiencies and lowering prices at the checkout. In addition, many involved in organic are striving for a sustainable agricultural system- one which is ecologically sound as well as economically viable. Paying farmers a fair price for their products is an important tenet for many involved in organic agriculture. It may help to think of the extra pennies spent on organic products as a daily contribution to your health and the health of the planet, one well worth making if one is able.

An Opportunity to Support a Healthier Tomorrow
Organic agriculture is transforming farming around the world by

  • Protecting farm workers and their families
  • Protecting young children and people with compromised immune systems who are most vulnerable to the poisons we are putting on our food and in our soil, water and air
  • Increasing biodiversity, including one of the most important places of all- the life in the soil
  • Saving small family farms
  • Setting higher humane animal standards

Through nurturing the soil and keeping toxic and persistent chemicals out of the environment, organic agriculture can help us pass along a healthy and safe planet for future generations. The cost may be a little more, but the value for you and your family may be far greater.

Source: Stonyfield Farms

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