How Organic Are Your Organics?

USDA Organic Sign

I had an interesting conversation on Facebook the other day that felt like it was worth sharing. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this discussion!

A friend mentioned that she’d purchased some produce that was labeled organic and brought it home only to discover it was covered in pesticides. While there are organic pesticides out there, another friend pointed us both to the very interesting “facility pest management practice standard” portion of the National Organic Program’s Organic Production and Handling Requirements. (Think that’s a mouthful? Wait until you read the standard!) It was pretty eye-opening, especially the clause that I bolded toward the bottom and the two after it:

(a) The producer or handler of an organic facility must use management practices to prevent pests, including but not limited to:

(1) Removal of pest habitat, food sources, and breeding areas;

(2) Prevention of access to handling facilities; and

(3) Management of environmental factors, such as temperature, light, humidity, atmosphere, and air circulation, to prevent pest reproduction.

(b) Pests may be controlled through:

(1) Mechanical or physical controls including but not limited to traps, light, or sound; or

(2) Lures and repellents using nonsynthetic or synthetic substances consistent with the National List.

(c) If the practices provided for in paragraphs (a) and (b) of this section are not effective to prevent or control pests, a nonsynthetic or synthetic substance consistent with the National List may be applied.

(d) If the practices provided for in paragraphs (a), (b), and (c) of this section are not effective to prevent or control facility pests, a synthetic substance not on the National List may be applied: Provided, That, the handler and certifying agent agree on the substance, method of application, and measures to be taken to prevent contact of the organically produced products or ingredients with the substance used.

(e) The handler of an organic handling operation who applies a nonsynthetic or synthetic substance to prevent or control pests must update the operation’s organic handling plan to reflect the use of such substances and methods of application. The updated organic plan must include a list of all measures taken to prevent contact of the organically produced products or ingredients with the substance used.

(f) Notwithstanding the practices provided for in paragraphs (a), (b), (c), and (d) of this section, a handler may otherwise use substances to prevent or control pests as required by Federal, State, or local laws and regulations: Provided, That, measures are taken to prevent contact of the organically produced products or ingredients with the substance used.

The “National List” is a list of substances that are and are not considered up to organic standards.

That sounds to me like it says, “if you’ve tried lots of organic means to control pests, you can use non-organic pesticides as a last resort.” Requiring the farmer to work with the handler is probably meant to prevent large, organic operations from abusing this clause, and I wonder how effective it is. I also wonder how often organic produce gets sprayed with non-organic pesticides.

The first thing that came to mind for me was the story from a couple of years ago involving Horizon and a few other large-scale organic dairy producers.

I’d love to hear what you guys think about this clause and about the U.S. Organic Standards in general!

Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by 01-17-05_t-m-b

Written by Becky Striepe

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