Is Organic Really “Organic”?

As more people continue to consume organic foods, the industry has expanded to reach $50 billion in sales. This number accounts for 5.8% of total U.S. food sales in 2019, proving to be a small slice of the pie, but there are some issues within the industry that everyone might not agree with.  

The Organic Seal

One of the issues with the organic industry in the U.S. is the organic seal itself. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversees the National Organic Program (NOP), which enforces organic regulations. Some people may not be aware, but there are currently four levels of labeling:

1) 100% Organic: All the ingredients are certified organic and the USDA organic seal or the 100% organic claim may be presented.

2) Organic: At least 95% of the ingredients are certified organic and the USDA organic

seal or organic claim may be presented.

3) Made with organic ingredients: At least 70% of ingredients are certified organic but

the USDA organic seal cannot be displayed, and the product cannot be called organic.

Up to three ingredients or ingredient groups can be called organic.

4) Specific organic ingredients: Less than 70% of ingredients are certified organic and

cannot use the USDA organic seal or have the word “organic” on its main packaging.

Producers can only label the organic ingredients and the percentage.

This tiered labeling system is useful to determine the amount of certified organic ingredients in a product, but can catch those who weren’t aware of these different grades off-guard. Depending on the consumer, some may see that organic products are not truly “organic” because the USDA allows some pesticides to be used and that does not align with their view of “organic”. Certified organic in the U.S. does not necessarily mean that a farmer cannot use USDA approved substances on their fields. For this reason, there are some people who might not agree with the USDA. Therefore, it’s important for consumers to research about what they are eating because the best source of regulation is yourself.

Growing Without Soil

Traditionally, crops have been grown in soil but new methods of growing—such as aquaponics and hydroponics—are emerging and can also be certified organic. This is a controversial issue as some people believe that produce that have not been grown in soil should not be called organic due to its soilless condition. Soil is essential to organic farming because of its contribution to a sustainable system and healthy soil can lead to healthy plants.  At the same time, advocates for such a hydroponic approach state that farming like that helps to provide affordable organic food because it increases the supply and can contribute to healthy market competition. In urban areas where open land with healthy soil is not abundant, the manner of growing without soil is beneficial to feeding the community. This is especially true in densely populated areas.  

What It Means To Be “Organic

 Whether a product is really “organic” depends on your view of organic. Some people might say that farmers using synthetic pesticides—although some is allowed by the USDA—automatically excludes them from consideration while others believe it is all right. Likewise, the decision to be certified organic without the need to be grown in soil is still an ongoing debate and is challenged by a number of people who believe that organic cannot be “organic” without soil. Not everyone is going to agree on every single issue, but consumers should be able to trust in our organic system and believe that what they are eating is truly organic, at least according to the USDA. However, the definition of “organic” may vary from person to person.

2 thoughts on “Is Organic Really “Organic”?

  1. Searcher/ synthesizer

    I thought that this post was well written and had great information. An additional source that could be added is I thought that this website had some more information you could use for more information on organic farming. This article talked about the importance of urban agriculture as well as its impact.

    Importance of urban agriculture
    • Maintain and improve fertility, soil structure and biodiversity, and reduce erosion
    • Reduce the risks of human, animal, and environmental exposure to toxic materials
    • Fine-tune farming practices to meet local production conditions and satisfy local markets

    • Facilitating development of organic agriculture production, breeding, and processing methods
    • Evaluating potential economic benefits to producers and processors
    • Exploring international trade opportunities for organically grown and processed products
    • Determining desirable traits for organic commodities
    • Identifying marketing and policy constraints on the expansion of organic agriculture
    • Conducting on-farm research and development that emphasizes observation of, experimentation with, and innovation for working organic farms
    • Developing new and improved seed varieties suited for organic agriculture
    • Developing educational tools for agricultural professionals who advise producers on organic practices
    • Facilitating the transition from conventional to organic agricultural practices


  2. I found this post to be very well written, informative, and interesting. Prior to taking this class, I was aware that organic produce made up an extremely small percentage of the total U.S food sales, but I was not aware of the numerous regulations associated with certifying produce as organic. To further expand on this topic, there are various benefits organic agriculture can provide to the soil. Soils that are rich in organic matter hold more air and water and produce larger crop yields than soils that have low amounts of organic matter. In order to increase the amounts of organic matter in the soil, common methods include adding compost, using cover crops, and limiting the amount of soil tillage.

    Organic agriculture helps to remove and hold various greenhouse gasses within the various structures of crops. For example, organic agriculture helps to remove nitrogen and carbon from the atmosphere and lock it up within the soil. The preservation of nitrogen in the soil is also beneficial for farmers because it provides a vital nutrient to the crops and reduces the need for fertilizers and other chemicals. During the absorption process, nodules that form on the roots of legume crops such as lentils, chickpeas, and alfalfa contain bacteria that extract nitrogen from the air. After absorbing nitrogen from the air, the bacteria fix it in the soil and convert it to a form of nitrogen that can be used by the next crops planted in the rotation as a nutrient.

    In the U.S, organic crops must be grown without the use of synthetic herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, or genetically modified crops. Regarding livestock, organic livestock raised for meat, eggs, and dairy products must be raised in living conditions that accommodate their natural behaviors and fed organic feed and forage. Also, they may not be given antibiotics, growth hormones, or any animal by products. In terms of nutritional content, organic foods tend to be richer in essential nutrients such as antioxidants than their traditionally grown counterparts and people with food allergies may find their symptoms decrease in severity or go away completely by eating organic foods. Aside from the nutritional content, organic foods contains fewer pesticides such as fungicides, herbicides, and pesticides that are used in traditional agricultural growing methods and is often fresher because it does not contain preservatives that help it to last longer on the shelf. While sustainability experts in the U.S continue to be unsure of whether food items like fruits or vegetables with the “certified organic” labels are in fact genuinely organic or not, they can all agree that it is far more environmentally sustainable to eat organic produce rather than conventionally produced produce. Although consumption of organic produce is environmentally sustainable and helps to reduce agriculture’s impact on the environment, the high cost of organic produce prevents a significant amount of people from converting to a full organic diet. As a result they have turned to other methods such as reducing the amount of meat and/or dairy in their diet to help reduce their carbon footprint associated with food.


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