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Resources \ FAQ


Frequently Asked Questions:

Our frequently asked questions are subdivided into the following categories to facilitate searching:

Organic food in general

What does "organic" mean?

Organic produce is made without artificial chemical fertilisers or pesticides, and is grown with the well-being of the farm and the environment in mind. See our Archive introduction to the Organic Ethos for more information.

How can meat be organic?

Organic meat and dairy products come from animals reared on organic feed and without antibiotics. Organical animals can expect to live about three times as long as the conventionally-reared.

What if an animal gets ill - can they be given antibiotics then?

Yes - but they can't be classed as 'organic' for some time afterwards.

What makes organic cotton organic?

Organic cotton is simply cotton grown to organic standards - i.e. without artificial chemicals. There is, however, no certification available for non-food products in the UK.

Can you grow organic crops from GM seeds?

No. GM concentrates on one aspect of the organism and not the whole, which entirely contradicts the principles of organic.

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Consumer protection

How do I know it's organic?

Organic produce will have a certifier's symbol on it somewhere (see here). The certifiers have a stringent set of standards which determine whether produce is organic or not. Of course, if your organic food comes with one of our trace codes, you can run it through our Consumer Trace system and find out everything about it!

Is there an organic "watchdog"?

At present, the certifiers perform the task, However, in October of 2002 the federally mandated National Organic Standards Act will go into effect. This Act will essentially certify the Certifiers by setting the basic criteria for Organic Certification throughout the country.

What does a certifier do?

The certifier ensures that farms are really organic, by carrying out regular and surprise inspections. They also provide advice and help to farmers. See also our certifiers resource.

How popular is organic food?

It's difficult to say. A surprisingly large percentage of consumers say they would buy organic food if the price was the same as conventional produce. Organics now represent about 2% of the U.S. retail dollars spent on produce. This may seem small, but it represents a phenomenal growth rate in the last 10 years; it is estimated that this percentage with climb to 10% within the next 10 years. It remains to be seen, however, whether organic food will ever become the norm.

How is organic farming better for the environment?

By working in harmony with the earth, conventional farming encourages biodiversity; there is also less pollution since there are no artificial chemicals to wash into rivers. (See our article on biodiversity.)

Is it less efficient than conventional farming?

Yes, at least in the short term. But once an organic farms reaches its full potential, it can often be more profitable than a conventional farm (see a WIRS report.) One of the main tenets of organic farming is to use everything - thus, for example, an organic dairy farmer might supply manure to an organic crop grower in his co-operative.

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Food issues

Why should I eat organic?

Organic food is often thought to be more flavorful and nutritious; it benefits the environment. It is especially popular with parents of young children.

Why does the selection of organic produce change in my supermarket?

Like all produce, organic is subject to weather conditions and seasonal rotation of varieties. However, improvements in transportation and communications now allow marketers to globally source many popular items in order to keep them on the grocery shelves year-round. The organic community is lagging slightly behind its conventional counterparts in this effort, but catching up rapidly. The local strawberries of summer can now be replaced with certified fruit fresh from the Southern Hemisphere in winter.

Is organic food shaped differently from conventional food?

No! It is a common misconception that Organic food is often mis-shapen due to the lack of artificial growth methods, but universal grade standards have been put in place regarding shape and color, to ensure that consumers receive the quality they deserve. There are no lower standards for organic food in the marketplace, and nor should there be!

Do I have to store organic food differently?

Organic food, because it cannot contain any artificial preservatives, tends not to last as long as conventional food. It should be used as quickly as possible, and it should be washed before use, like all other produce.

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Buying organic produce

Why does organic food cost more?

There are two main reasons for the price discrepancy between organic and conventional food. These include demand for Organics outstripping supply, and the increased production costs inherent in growing organically because the materials allowed must be very labor intensive to be efficient. It is estimated that an organic farmers costs are 25-40% higher than those of conventional growing practices.

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Growing organically

How did organic farming start?

Organic farming has always been around! 'Conventional' has only been in its current state for fifty or so years, when intensive techniques were introduced to feed the wartime population. Some farmers rejected the reasoning behind artificial chemicals, and continued with the old method, which is now called 'organic'.

How do I start an organic garden?

Good resources are available at our links page.

What is a co-operative?

A co-operative is a group of farms who pool their produce and financial resources to improve post-harvest packing facilities and position in the marketplace, usually packing their produce under a common label. The profits are shared proportionally equally.

What is transitional and how is it funded?

Transitional is the process of converting a crop over from conventional to organic. This takes at least three years. This represents an increase in real costs to a farmer who must grow this crop organically, but still sell it at conventional produce prices. In the long run, the grower hopes that, when certification is granted, the resulting profits realized will offset his three-year investment.

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Resources \ FAQ

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