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Friday Farm Fact: Many Organic Foods Contain Non-organic Food Ingredients

So you’ve committed to buying organic food whenever you can…that’s great! But did you know that many processed foods that are labeled as “organic” actually contain non-organic ingredients? Organizations like the Soil Association Certification dictate that at least 95% of the ingredients in foods labeled as “organic” must come from organically-produced animals and plants. But what exactly is in that other 5%?

Fortunately, most of that 5% is made up of water and salt, which are generally considered pretty safe. Water that is used as an ingredient or in the processing or cleaning of an organic food must meet the standards for drinking water. Salt contains anti-caking agents that prevent organic foods from clumping together, however, manufacturers must be able to justify why the salt is necessary. The remainder of that percentage is usually composed of additives and processing aids, some of which are legally required. For example, organic flour is often required to contain additives of iron and thiamine. Processing aids, such as rising agents in organic breads, are used to help the food retain shape and form. But no matter what the circumstances, artificial coloring and sweeteners are never allowed in organic food.

Some organic foods contain non-organic ingredients because it is extremely difficult or impossible to grow organic versions of those ingredients. For example, non-organic edible plants like passion fruit, dried raspberries, horseradish seeds, and algae are often allowed into organic foods. Sugars and starches like rice paper and fructose are also often allowed into organic foods because they cannot be effectively grown by organic methods. Animal products like gelatin, whey powder, and natural sausage skin casings usually make the list of accepted non-organic ingredients as well.

Simply put, organic foods are foods produced by methods that don’t’ involve modern synthetic inputs like pesticides and chemical compounds. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) conducts routine inspections of farms that slap USDA Organic labels on their products. Although standards vary from country to country, organic farmers must exceed standards for growing, processing, packaging, storage, and shipping. To learn more about the certification and accreditation of organic farms that you buy from, keep up with the National Organic Program, which is the federal regulatory framework that governs organic food in the United States.

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Lauren - Thanks for the links. I know there is a lot of hear-say about organic produce at commercial stores being hardly different from regular produce.

rob - yea i question how food sold in mass quantities at stores can be truly organic since so much is on the line in making profit. can’t have a whole crop go to waste!

saraluvsveggies - i’ve started growing my veggies and i have researched methods to protect the plants without using traditional pesticides bought at the store and so far it’s worked out great. i just want to grow more!

Nancy Evans - Interesting that certain products are labeled as organic simply because there are no means to grow them organically! I would think they wouldn’t use a label at all if they are not organic?

Richard (Founder) - I know – isn’t Organic farming great!

Richard (Founder) - Organic has become a very abused word in this industry. You really don’t have to pass any lab-testing of your products to get “certified organic”. The key is to prove that during the last 3 years the land did not use any chemical fertilizers or pesticides. So being too close to a neighboring farm that is spraying their land or using water that might have contamination to irrigate your crops, would not count against you for organic certification. At Seagate we make sure the product itself is clean … and we do not have any neighboring farms. Our water supply is from well-water which is the underground flow of water from the nearby Sierra mountains.

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