Not so many years ago, the term "organic" was taken seriously only by a minority of consumers. This situation has changed considerably in recent years, as greater numbers of people have become concerned about safety. They are worried about the quality of the food they eat and the materials in their homes and environments.
Consequently, the organic market has become big business and oversight and protection of this market must keep up with this expansion.
With the growth of the organic market inevitably came the charlatans and frauds whose aim is to take advantage of the naive shopper.
It's the responsibility of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to protect the public. Accordingly the USDA has been tightening up definitions and regulations to this end.
The label "organic" is protected by the USDA National Organic Program (NOP).
According to the NOP, if something is organic, it is grown without pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. It is grown uncontaminated by sewage.
No genetically modified organisms or ionizing radiation can be involved in its growth. No synthetic materials are used in production or handling.
Seeds must be organic. A crop is only considered organic if there have been no banned chemicals or other substances used in the fields for a minimum of three years. Organic products cannot come in contact with non-organic products.
Meat that is considered organic by the NOP must have been untouched by antibiotics or growth hormones. The animals must have access to the outdoors.
Organic meat and milk can only come from livestock that grazes in pastures for at least four months out of the year. Thirty percent of their feed must come from grazing.
Feed must be 100 percent organic. The soil and water quality in the area of the animals must be protected and a detailed plan must be submitted to this end, and approved.
The NOP says that "100 percent organic" products are made entirely from organic ingredients by organic methods. Products simply labeled "organic" must have 95 percent of its ingredients meet the organic standards of the USDA. These categories have the right to carry the USDA organic seal.