Being "Organic" is not just about the food.

One of the first questions we always get at markets is if our cookies are organic. I really don’t like this question to be honest. I know its cynical, but I’ve often seen that “organic” label that is stamped on fruits and vegetables at the grocery store as a fashionable food trend, or a way to charge more for the same food.

I know that in reality this isn’t the case, but its hard not to think that when there are so many competing definitions of what truly can be defined as ‘organic’, and the fact that the word ‘organic’ is not a concrete-never-changing word, it has evolved over time.

I thought I understood the term “organic”. From what I’ve always read it is a method of producing food without chemicals. But my own definition has led to me to second-guess what I really understand as “organic”. Moreover, that definition is so broad that it leads to even more questions: Which chemicals shouldn’t be used? Are all chemicals bad? How else are we able to produce enough food for our ever-expanding population? Is Organic even obtainable? Can it be produced at a more affordable price? Is it a food trend?

Naturally (or should I say organically?), this made me second guess my understanding of what exactly organic food is, so I did a little bit of research.

First off with a definition by the Merriam Webster dictionary:

“Of, relating to, yielding, or involving the use of food produced with the use of feed or fertilizer of plant or animal origin without employment of chemically formulated fertilizers, growth stimulants, antibiotics, or pesticides”

Okay, well I guess that fits in with the definition that I already had of “organic”, helpful but not by much.

Then I went to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) website in search of a definition.

“Under the National Organic Program (NOP): Organic is a labeling term for food or other agricultural products that have been produced using cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that support the cycling of on-farm resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity in accordance with the USDA organic regulations. This means that organic operations must maintain or enhance soil and water quality, while also conserving wetlands, woodlands, and wildlife. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.”

Okay, so from this definition it isn’t just about the food that I’m using or consuming, it is about how the production of foods consumed and used effect the natural cycle of the environment around the food. I can get on board with that.

Then I was off to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency website for a definition, really just a second opinion:

“Organic production is a holistic system designed to optimize the productivity and fitness of diverse communities within the agro-ecosystem, including soil organisms, plants, livestock and people. The principal goal of organic production is to develop operations that are sustainable and harmonious with the environment.” (In order to have the voluntary label the food must meet the standard for no less than 95% of its contents)

The Canadian definition more or less in the same direction as the USDA, but while the USDA pinpoints what types of environments and what types of materials not to be used, Canada is a bit more vague using terms such as ‘sustainable’ and ‘harmonious’. But, overall I can still get on board with that.

And just for one more definition/viewpoint, I looked at the most recent EU Council Regulations as of 28 June 2007 :

“ Organic production is an overall system of farm management and food production that combines best environmental practices, a high level of biodiversity, the preservation of natural resources, the application of high animal welfare standards and a production method in line with the preference of certain consumers for products produced using natural substances and processes. The organic production method thus plays a dual societal role, where it on the one hand provides for a specific market responding to a consumer demand for organic products, and on the other hand delivers public goods contributing to the protection of the environment and animal welfare, as well as to rural development.”

The biggest idea I took from this last definition was a sense of responsibility. There is definitely a job in producing food, but it is an inherent responsibility to not hazardously produce. There has to be a balance in producing on sustaining.

These three definitions of “Organic”, while all in the same theme and working towards obtaining the same goal, shows how easy it is to get confused with what is and isn’t in fact “organic”. Since there is no ‘one definition’ of “organic” nor is there a single standard by which all food production is judged, it is easy to get lost in the degree to which something is “organic” or not.