How can we be sure the food that we eat is organic?
It would take a lot of investigation to understand all of the laws and regulations applied to the food that we bring into our homes. That’s where state and federal certifications come in. In 1995, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) established a universal set of standards through the National Organic Program (NOP) to provide federal regulations for organic food. Many people wanted to eat organic, and this was a way to provide guidance.
As with many good efforts, the USDA Organic label eventually became more complicated than originally intended, when stakeholders such as supermarket chains, agribusiness, and other lobbyists began to make the process less transparent. For example, certain hydroponic operations can now be included under the umbrella of “USDA Organic”, despite these crops being grown without soil – a basic component of organic farming!
Traditional organic farmers were disheartened by this change, but did not have the time or the funds to lobby Congress the way large agribusiness companies did.
That’s where the Real Organic Project (ROP), an add-on label to USDA Organic, comes in. The ROP was formed by farmers who were still following the original guidelines, and wanted to differentiate themselves from USDA Organic. The project aims to certify based on standards which meet several criteria:
- Origin of Livestock
- Grazing Requirement
- Grown in the Ground
- Soil Management
- Greenhouse Production
- Animal Welfare
- Split Farms (farms that grow both organic and non organic)
The ROP certification assures consumers that, for example, the eggs they buy would be from a farm where chickens are allowed to roam outside (which is no longer the case in some “USDA Organic” farms)!
At NCOF, we feel that the ROP certification is in line with our mission to provide sustainable, organic food, while being transparent with our customers. As NCOF Board President Mary DeBlois points out, “I think this is a good step to let other people know the value of the food and of this farm.”
So, back to our question about how can we be sure the food that we eat is organic?
USDA Organic is still a first step, because any ROP certified farm is also certified under USDA Organic. But hopefully, the new ROP label will become more familiar to consumers, and provide the confidence that they are buying true organic food one step further. Here at NCOF, we are proud to now carry this new and more specific certification!