Is The Food You’re Eating Really Organic?

Over the past couple of years, organic has become really trendy whether it be for the “cleaner” methods of production, the possible health benefits or just for the impact it has on the environment. While there are so many appealing factors about the world of organics, unfortunately, it’s also a world filled with deception and confusion. How do you know what you’re getting is truly organic?

False Organic Claims

Three farmers in Nebraska have pleaded guilty to selling their corn and soybean crops as organic when the opposite was true. It happened over a long period too. From 2010-2017, their grains were sold to an Iowa company that labeled them as certified. Prosecutors allege the farmers’ practices weren’t organic whatsoever, and that they used pesticides and nitrogen to grow the crops.

The farmers made about $10.8 million off their “organic” grain scheme.

In another case dating back to 2016, a shipment of non-organic corn and soybeans left Ukraine for Turkey. But somewhere between Turkey and California, the load became certified organic, making it $4 million more expensive. Unbelievable what some time in a ship can do for crops, isn’t it? The transformation was only discovered after being sold to many unknowing Americans, and only after the Washington Post investigated and alerted authorities.

The National Association for Sustainable Agriculture pursued Australia’s Kings Court Vineyard in 2014 for falsely claiming to be organic. Also in Australia, GAIA Skin Naturals was fined $37,800 for claiming that three of its baby products were all natural and organic when they all were found to contain synthetic chemical preservatives.

These are only a few examples highlighting how despite stringent government regulations, sometimes companies can slip through the cracks.

The farmer’s market is a whole different story; CBC Marketplace did a fantastic investigative piece in 2017 finding many vendors claiming to be homegrown or chemical free, when in fact the produce they were selling was grown in Mexico and bought from a wholesaler.  

What Does “Organic” Mean?

According to the USDA, products sold and labeled as organic must have been produced and handled without the use of most synthetic chemicals. In fact, organic certification is only granted if the land being used has been free of those chemicals for a minimum of three years before the harvest of the certified agricultural products.

In 95% of the ingredients in the product were grown by these rules, it’s organic. Anything that is at least 70% organic can be labeled as “made with organic ingredients.”

In Canada, many of the same rules apply. There are very strict limits and prohibitions where the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers are concerned, along with the use of antibiotics or synthetic hormones, animal cloning, GMOs, sewage sludge, and irradiation.

Both the USDA and the CFIA claim the certification process for organic farms is strong, and that once granted organic status, the growers in question are routinely investigated to make sure they’re obeying the rules.

Skyrocketing Sales

Organic food sales in the US actually total about $40 billion every year. According to a Nielsen study released by the Organic Trade Association, organics can be found in 82% of American households. The industry is booming.

Despite the unfortunate cases of false organic claims, we have to have faith that the governmental food inspection agencies are doing their jobs. It’s all we can do, really.

Always looks for the “organic certified” seal on any product you buy. Without it, it’s not actually organic. Also, Consumer Reports has a great tip: check the sticker code on the product. If it has four numbers, it’s not organic. A five number code beginning with a nine, and it’s a winner.

I still try to buy organic products, despite the few bad apples who have duped us. Do you?

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Catherine Sherriffs

Editor at Garden Culture Magazine

Catherine is a Canadian award-winning journalist who worked as a reporter and news anchor in Montreal’s radio and television scene for 10 years. A graduate of Concordia University, she left the hustle and bustle of the business after starting a family. Now, she’s the editor and a writer for Garden Culture Magazine while also enjoying being a mom to her three young kids. Her interests include great food, gardening, fitness, animals, and anything outdoors.