The word “organic” means the way farmers grow and process farming (agricultural) products. These products include fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products such as milk and cheese, and meat. Organic farming practices are designed to meet the following goals:
Improve soil and water quality
Provide safe, healthy places for farm animals (livestock) to live
Enable natural farm animals’ behavior
Promote a self-sustaining cycle of resources on a farm
Materials or methods not allowed in organic farming include:
Artificial (synthetic) fertilizers to add nutrients to the soil
Sewage sludge as fertilizer
Most synthetic pesticides for pest control
Using radiation (irradiation) to preserve food or to get rid of disease or pests
Using genetic technology to change the genetic makeup (genetic engineering) of crops, which can improve disease or pest resistance, or to improve crop harvests
Antibiotics or growth hormones for farm animals (livestock)
Organic crop farming materials or practices may include:
Plant waste left on fields (green manure), farm animals’ manure or compost to improve soil quality
Plant rotation to keep soil quality and to stop cycles of pests or disease
Cover crops that prevent wearing away of soil (erosion) when sections of land aren’t in use and to plow into soil for improving soil quality
Mulch to control weeds
Insects or insect traps to control pests
Certain natural pesticides and a few synthetic pesticides approved for organic farming, used rarely and only as a last choice and coordinated with a USDA organic certifying agent
Organic farming practices for farm animals (livestock) include:
Healthy living conditions and access to the outdoors
Pasture feeding for at least 30% of farm animals’ nutritional needs during grazing season
Organic is non-GMO because the use of GMOs is prohibited in organic production. For example, organic farmers cannot plant GMO seeds, organic livestock cannot eat GMO feed, and organic food manufacturers cannot use GMO ingredients.
Organic producers are also required by law to protect their crops and products from unintentional contact with GMOs. For example, organic farmers may need procedures to prevent GMO drift from adjacent farms. Processors must separate organic ingredients from non-organic ingredients during receiving, processing, storage, and shipping. USDA-accredited certifying agents such as CCOF verify that certified organic producers do not use GMOs and have effective prevention strategies. CCOF annually inspects every operation to verify that the certified operator is adequately preventing contact with GMOs. CCOF also periodically tests for GMOs, which helps verify that each level of the supply chain has adequate prevention strategies in place. If GMOs are suspected or detected, CCOF is required by law to conduct an investigation to determine if a violation of organic farming or processing standards occurred.
Non-GMO does not mean GMO-free because organic producers continue to be at risk from inadvertent contamination as non-organic food systems increase their use of GMOs. Buying organic helps stop the spread of GMOs because it supports the farmers and companies that not only do not use GMOs, but who also proactively protect their certified products.
The use of genetic engineering, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs), is prohibited in organic products. This means an organic farmer can’t plant GMO seeds, an organic cow can’t eat GMO alfalfa or corn, and an organic soup producer can’t use any GMO ingredients.
To meet the USDA organic regulations, farmers and processors must show they aren’t using GMOs and that they are protecting their products from contact with prohibited substances from farm to table.