As a general rule, organic agriculture allows only natural applications and substances, while prohibiting synthetics applications and substances. Organic food must be produced without using conventional pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, ionizing radiation, genetically modified organisms, or sewage sludge.
What is sewage sludge, one might ask, and why was it being applied to our crops in the first place? Sewage sludge is the technical term, believe it or not, for anything that is flushed, poured, or dumped into our nation’s wastewaters, and it has become a toxic mess of hazardous chemicals, industrial waste, pharmaceuticals, and other noxious compounds. Currently in conventional agriculture, it is utilized as a cheap fertilizer, even though there have been numerous documentations of humans becoming ill after being exposed to the fertilizer. We can certainly do without this one in our foods, thank you.
The organic standard applies to both plant and animal products. For meat, eggs, and dairy to be organic, they must come from animals that have been given no antibiotics, no growth hormones, and must have been fed organic feed. As of 2010, these animals must also legally be required to have access to the outdoors -- a newly enforced condition that pleases many animal rights activists especially.
How does organic agriculture work without the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or other applications? Until the middle of the 20th century, there were no synthetics used in most farms, and they naturally operated by today’s “organic” standards. Common practices of traditional organics includes recycling farm-produced livestock manures, composting, crop rotation, green manuring, and crop residue management.
The benefits of organic farming have long since been studied. Several decades worth of research on this type of sustainable agriculture has deemed it responsible for reducing soil erosion, lowering fossil fuel consumption, reducing nitrate leaching, increasing carbon sequestration, and minimizing pesticide consumption. By mimicking nature’s way of utilizing a land system as a whole, rather than a mechanized system of input and output, farmers are able to maintain a greater array of biodiversity and harmony in their environments.
In order for a food product to be labeled “100% Organic,” ever single ingredient (except for salt and water) must be organic. Foods simply labeled “Organic” must contain at least 95% or more organic ingredients. Foods labeled “Made with Organic Ingredients” must contain at least 70% organics, and those products with less than 70% organic ingredients may only list each separate ingredient as “organic” on the food’s ingredient label.