Thursday, June 4, 2009

Natural, Organic, Sustainable. What is the difference?

Many questions have been raised about natural, organic, and sustainable agriculture. What is the difference? I thought all meat products are natural? If I buy goats and put them on pasture is that classified organic? These are typical questions I receive on a daily basis regarding the agriculture industry. Let's examine the difference between natural, organic, and sustainable agriculture.
The definition of natural depends on who is defining the word. U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture do not have an official definition for the word. When it comes time to use the term, natural, both regulatory units evaluate the products on a case by case basis. Natural according to the USDA is definied as not adding any artificial flavoring, color ingredients, chemical preservatives or artificial or synthetic ingredients to the raw product. This definition only applies to meat and poultry. A natural product is minimally processed and does not alter the raw version.
Organic farming relies on practices such as using cultural and biological pest management, elimination of all hormones, antibiotics, and synthetic chemicals in crop and livestock production. Products, producers, and their farms must meet United States Department of Agriculture specific standards to be labeled as organic. Farmers must go through a certification program to have their farm classify as organic. Meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products can be classified organic if no antibiotics or growth hormones have been given to the animal during its entire life. Feed for these animals must also be grown organically. USDA organic certifier will inspect the farm and ensure the farmer is following all organic standards.

There are three different types of organic labels for products. Labeling requirements are based on the percentage of organic ingredients in the product. '100 percent Organic' labeled products must contain only organic ingredients approved by the USDA. Products labeled 'Organic' contain at least 95 percent ingredients produced organically. The 'Made with Organic' label is used for processed products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients.
Finally, sustainable has no hard and fast definition. Sustainable foods are usually raised by farmers that promote the health of animals, land, environment, and community. Sustainable farming is more of a way of life and does not have any sort of certification. Animals must be able to carry out natural behaviors such as rooting and grazing. Sustainable farms produce and sell products that are sold as close to the farm as possible. Consumers can partake in sustainable practices by buying local and eating seasonally.
So remember, next time you hear someone talk about these three types of farming practices, make sure to educate them on the proper definition.

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