Organics and the New National Standards

It has been a big year for the organic food industry. Sales have reached $11 billion annually and are growing at 20% each year. And if you hadn’t heard, the USDA passed the National Organic Standards on October 21 of this year.

Organic foods first appeared in the 1970s and were associated with natural grocery stores and small, environmentally minded farmers. Stores like Down to Earth, offered organic foods because of their commitment to providing their customers with foods which were grown without the use of dangerous pesticides and more in accordance with how nature originally planned.

As the organic industry grew during the 1980s and 1990s, laws were passed in several states to regulate organic food production. The Organic Tilth Act and the California Organic Standards Act were two of the most recognized and respected laws in the industry. But because there was no uniform standard or definition of organic, many people began to question what organic really meant. This is why the new National Organic Standards are such a great thing for the consumer and the industry.

The National Organic Standards require that any food product that bears the name organic must meet rigorous new standards, which have been verified by a third-party certifier. Now when you buy organic, you can be assured that the fruits or vegetables were grown without the use of herbicides, insecticides, chemical fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics, genetic engineering, irradiation, and sewage sludge.

If you eat dairy products, you will also be happy to know that the cows, which produce “organic” milk, are treated more humanely and are given access to the outdoors. They also are not given growth hormones and antibiotics.

When you go shopping for organic foods in the near future, you will start to see a USDA seal on those products, which are certified organic. Due to the fact that many processed foods have organic ingredients, the USDA has four different categories for their labeling system. However, only the first two of these categories will bear the organic seal. Here is a very short description of each:

100% Organic
This means what it says.

At least 95% of ingredients are organic.

Made with Organic Ingredients
At least 70% of ingredients are organic.

Less than 70% Organic
Organic ingredients can be listed on the side panel only.

In Hawaii, organic farming has been very productive and has the potential to take off in the coming years. Today, Hawaii has 70 certified organic farms and 79 that have applied for certification. In stores like, Down to Earth, you can find organic honey, macadamia nuts, coffee, papaya, pineapple, banana, and ginger that have all been produced locally. Hawaii Organic Farmers Association (HOFA) is the organization that certifies organic farms on the islands and they have been approved by the USDA to continue in this role.

People in Hawaii and in other place on the mainland choose organic for a variety of reasons. Many people are convinced that organic foods are healthier and more nutritious. One study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (April 2001) found that organic fruits, vegetables, and grains contain more vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorous than conventional produce and also have less toxic substances. Others feel strongly about protecting the environment and know that organic farming reduces soil erosion, greatly improves soil health, contributes far less to global warming, and dramatically decreases pollution.

The fact that organic foods are free of genetic engineering is another big plus for many consumers. At this point, eating organics is the only guarantee that you are not eating genetically engineered foods. You might not be aware of this, but Hawaii has become somewhat of a guinea pig for the testing of genetically engineered crops. You can never be too careful about what you eat and choosing organic is definitely the safest way to go.

Many people often comment that organic foods are too expensive and this is why they haven’t tried them. In some cases, this may be true. But there are a lot of products, where prices for organics are very competitive or even lower than some of the more mainstream brands.

However, even if organic foods are sometimes a little more expensive than conventional, you can be confident that you are providing your family with the healthiest and most nutritious foods that money can buy. And you also can be assured that you are helping the environment by supporting farmers who truly care about the ‘aina. So the next time you’re in Down to Earth, give organics a try!

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