By Sarah (Steve) Mosko
Special to the Surf City Voice
Presented with two equal-priced apples or cheeses – one organic and the other produced with conventional methods – which would you choose? Does upping the cost of the organic product by 10 percent change your mind? How about 40 percent?
Such decisions have become routine for even mainstream shoppers who’ve never set foot in a specialty health food store, now that Wal-Mart and major supermarket chains are competing with their own organic product lines and corporate giants, such as General Mills and Kraft, have jumped into the organic market under different brand names like Cascadian Farms and Boca.
What consumers believe about the differences between organic and conventional foods, and the value they place on those differences, will obviously drive their choices. However, most people probably have only a rough idea of what an organic label signifies and even sketchier knowledge of how conventional foods are produced, leaving them ill-equipped to make an informed choice.
USDA Certified Organic
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets national standards for the production and handling of agricultural products earning the USDA Organic Seal. Only when all ingredients are organically produced can an item be labeled “100 percent organic.” Foods made with at least 95 percent organic ingredients may only claim to be “organic,” whereas those with at minimum 70 percent organic ingredients are restricted to labeling as “contains organic ingredients” and are also denied the USDA Organic Seal.
Organic produce relies on traditional farming methods established prior to the 20th century, like crop rotation and use of composted animal manure, to maintain biodiversity and soil fertility. Genetic modification, where genes from another species are inserted into DNA, is not allowed, and crops must be grown without conventional pesticides and fertilizers made from synthetic ingredients for greater than three years. Application of sewage sludge to farmland is prohibited as is ionizing irradiation to kill pathogens. Read the full story