On Nutrition: Clarifying organic terminology
By Barbara Quinn
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Definitions are important, I was reminded after receiving a letter from the Public Affairs Office of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in response to a recent column on food labeling.
"There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about USDA organic that I'd be happy to clarify for you," Kim Soo graciously wrote. "For example, we don't make the distinction between 'organic' and 'certified USDA organic.' When it comes to agricultural products, all organic certification is done by the USDA."
"As such," the letter continued, "there are 3 distinct organic levels based on product composition:
"100 percent organic." must contain 100 percent organically produced ingredients; "Organic" must contain at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients. Any remaining product ingredients must be organically produced (unless not commercially available in organic form), or must be listed as "allowed" according to the "National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances;" "Made with organic (specified ingredients or food groups)" is for agricultural products with multiple ingredients. At least 70 percent must be organically produced and handled according to the organic standards of the National Organic Program (NOP). And no ingredients may be produced using prohibited practices such as genetic engineering, sewage sludge, or radiation.
These definitions, by the way, are based on "weight or fluid volume, excluding water and salt," according to the USDA.
I stand duly corrected. And not surprised that "organic" is not easily defined. Such as this statement from USDA Deputy Administrator Miles McEvoy: "In general, synthetic substances are prohibited unless specifically allowed; non-synthetic substances are allowed unless specifically prohibited."
OK then. So I promise go to the "source" for clarification on organic food issues…USDA's "National Organic Program" (NOP) (http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/nop). This is where "organic" is defined as an agricultural product that "has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used."
And that organic food can be identified with the USDA organic seal which indicates that the product has 95 percent or more organic content.
Besides organic food labels, USDA also regulates the use of voluntary terms that a producer of eggs, poultry or meat may use:
"Free-range" on a label means a flock (as in poultry) "was provided shelter in a building, room, or area with unlimited access to food, fresh water, and continuous access to the outdoors during their production cycle. The outdoor area may or may not be fenced and/or covered. "
"Cage-free" indicates that the flock was able to freely roam a building, room, or enclosed area with unlimited access to food and fresh water during their production cycle.
"Natural" only pertains to meat, poultry, and egg products that are minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients, says the USDA. "There are no standards or regulations for the labeling of natural food products if they do not contain meat or eggs."
"Grass-fed" means an animal receives a majority of its nutrients from grass throughout life. Use of the "grass-fed" label does not restrict the use of antibiotics, hormones or pesticides, says the USDA.
"Organic" animals may eat pasture grass as well as grain. And some meat products that meet both criteria may labeled "grass-fed organic."
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Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.
© 2011, The Monterey County Herald Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services