Table of Contents

Label Index

Saturday, June 2, 2007


Organic certification is a certification process for producers of organic food and other organic agricultural products. In general, any business directly involved in food production can be certified, including seed suppliers, farmers, food processors, retailers and restaurants. Requirements vary from country to country, and generally involve a set of production standards for growing, storage, processing, packaging and shipping that include:

* avoidance of synthetic chemical inputs (e.g. fertilizer, pesticides, antibiotics, food additives, etc) and genetically modified organisms;
* use of farmland that has been free from chemicals for a number of years (often, three or more);
* keeping detailed written production and sales records (audit trail);
* maintaining strict physical separation of organic products from non-certified products;
* undergoing periodic on-site inspections.

Maybe not a panacea

Obstacle to small independents

Originally, in the 1960s through the 1980s, the organic food industry comprised mainly small, independent farmers, selling locally. Organic "certification" was a matter of trust, based on a direct relationship between farmer and consumer. Critics view regulatory certification as a potential barrier to entry for small producers, by burdening them with increased costs, paperwork, and bureaucracy.

The pressures of certification on the small farmer producing for the local food market are real and significant, particularly for mixed vegetable production. For instance, certified organic seed is expensive, and the selection is limited: currently, organic seed generally costs 30-50%[citation needed] that of uncertified seed, and only a handful of varieties of each crop are available, compared to dozens of varieties in uncertified seed. Seed producers face the same constraints in certification as do organic farmers, however, unlike farmers who choose to farm organically for an identified market, the majority of smaller scale demand is for uncertified seed. Also, the detailed record-keeping formats, from planting to harvest, are usually designed for larger, single-crop harvests; observed strictly, the paperwork can be onerous for farmers harvesting a wide variety of crop in small quantities on daily or weekly schedules. Balancing strict, rule-based certification with practical concerns such as these necessitates "case-by-case" exceptions for all but the biggest organic farmers to survive within the system. Regardless of the intentions, strict certification in practice favors large-scale production.[citation needed]

Manipulation of regulations

Critics of formal certification also fear an erosion of organic standards. Provided with a legal framework within which to operate, lobbyists can push for amendments and exceptions favorable to large-scale production, resulting in "legally organic" products produced in ways similar to current conventional food. Combined with the fact that organic products are now sold predominantly through high volume distribution channels such as supermarkets, the concern is that the market is evolving to favor the biggest producers, and this could result in the small organic farmer being squeezed out.

Part One Here

Misrepresentation of the term organic

The word organic is central to the certification (and organic food marketing) process, and this is also questioned by some. Where organic laws exist, producers cannot use the term legally without certification. To bypass this legal requirement for certification, various alternative certification approaches, using currently undefined terms like "authentic" and "natural" instead of "organic", are emerging. In the US, motivated by the cost and legal requirements of certification (as of Oct. 2002), the private farmer-to-farmer association, Certified Naturally Grown, offers a "non-profit alternative eco-labelling program for small farms that grow using USDA Organic methods but are not a part of the USDA Certified Organic program."[2]

A related concern holds that certification is replacing consumer education, and this goes against the essential, holistic nature of organic farming. By reducing complex issues and regulations to a simple, convenient certified organic label, consumers may more easily ignore the principles and practices behind organics, leaving the definition of organic farming and organic food open to manipulation.

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