*Original image from UC Davis

Organic, natural, and free range, are all labels demarking many of the “healthier” foods we find in the grocery stores today. With copious amounts of confusing information around credible labels, it can be challenging for many of us to understand what we are reading and ultimately eating. According to Dr. Urvashi Rangan from Consumer Reports, credible labels must champion the three “Ts”, which includes:  telling the truth about the product, being transparent to the public, and fostering trust with consumers. 

The USDA Organic Label is esteemed as a reputable, credible label, but what does the labeling actually mean to us who are consuming the products? According to the National Organic Program, USDA Organic labeling refers to foods and other agricultural products approved by National Organic Certification and Accreditation standards. Organic food producers essentially have demonstrated a commitment to practices that promote ecological health. Further deciphered by USDA Agricultural Library, organic farmers operating practices must be sustainable or have the ability to operate indefinitely. Sustainability, in this sense, is broadly defined as practices that conserve our current resources, support our social systems, offer commercial competitiveness, and are environmentally sound. While building sustainable practices, organic farmers must also engage in efforts to minimize the use of synthetic fertilizers and other off-farm inputs as a way to minimize pollution to air, water, and soil. This last point is worth noting, because there is a pervasive misconception that “organic” means that no synthetic fertilization or pesticides are used in the farming practices. The USDA recognizes that farmers still experience the challenges of pests, bacteria, and food production demands for which the need of pesticides and fertilizers arose. However, organic farmers still must show consistent practices for ecological health as well as on-going innovation toward pollution reduction.

*Original image from Science Updates

Another component to the organic label that many consumers may be unfamiliar is that organic food handlers, such as processors and retailers, share in the responsibility with organic farmers to promote the synergistic productivity among people, plants, animals, and soil life. Therefore, if organic food producers engage in activities counter to the USDA Organic Regulations (e.g. selling non-organic foods as organic), then they are subject to the same fines and penalties as organic farmers. Incidentally, falsely using the USDA Organic Label yields a lofty $11,000 fine for each violation.

At the root of Organic practices are systematic, paradigm shifts that integrate visionary, long-standing ecological practices along with successful farming traditions accumulated through time. With organic requirement information readily available through USDA Alternative Farming Systems and information specific to organic labeling elucidated through Consumer Reports, the Organic Label is made transparent to consumers. Additionally, by offering news updates, conferences, and workshops for consumers to participate in the exchange of organic farming solutions, a forum for communicating truth about organic foods is created. As a result, truth is fostered with consumers. In the end, the USDA Organic Label fulfills the three “Ts” recommended for a credible label.