In 1990, Congress passed the Federal Organic Foods Production Act, which called for national organic food guidelines including certification of growers and standards for organic food production, monitoring crops for chemical contamination and livestock for living conditions and screening organic imports. The term "organic" typically describes food that has been cultivated and/or processed without the use of chemicals of any sort including fertilizers, insecticides, artificial coloring or flavoring and additives. In some states, however, it simply refers to the fact that crops are pesticide free and that animal feed and water are sans chemicals. Although consumers assume that foods labeled organic are as pure as possible, the truth is thatwhile many states have their own organic food guidelinesthere are no consistent regulations governing the standards of organic food producers. This means that chemical cross-contamination (through shipping, wind, water leaching, and so forth) is, with some growers and shippers, a possibility. To confuse matters further, the Organic Trade Association states that the following definition of "organic" was passed by the National Organic Standards Board 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. "Organic" is a labeling term that denotes products produced under the authority of the Organic Foods Production Act. The principal guidelines for organic production are to use materials and practices that enhance the ecological balance of natural systems and that integrate the parts of the farming system into an ecological whole. Organic agriculture practices cannot ensure that products are completely free of residues; however, methods are used to minimize pollution from air, soil and water. Organic food handlers, processors and retailers adhere to standards that maintain the integrity of organic agricultural products. The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people.
From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.