Part l. A Brief History Of Organic Certification
In the 1970s the supply of organically grown food was limited or largely unobtainable. Early organic farmers were often isolated and faced harassment and ridicule in their communities. Two of the greatest challenges at the time were a lack of organic production information, and different opinions on what the term “organic” should mean. “Organic” was used loosely; much like the word “natural” is used today.
Organic farmers and consumers quickly saw the necessity of developing consistent organic standards and a third-party certification process. Certification groups were started throughout the country, and farmers and consumers worked together to write standards defining organic. Criteria based on the premise that “organic farming will do no harm” were used in writing standards for soil, livestock, and human health. The impacts of conventional farming on biological diversity, birds and other wildlife, erosion, and the land itself, were critical considerations in these diverse discussions. By bringing growers and buyers together, commonality, consistency, and a fundamental organic certification system and methodology was created.
In the 1980s, many states passed organic laws, but a major challenge remained. Each certifying organization and state had its own standards, causing a lack of uniformity and reciprocity issues from certifier to certifier. A single national standard was crucial to prevent confusion in the marketplace and to protect against mislabeling or fraud. In 1989 the Organic Working Group, made up of twenty-five consumer, farmer, environmental, and animal protection organizations, began to work on federal organic standards. It took until 2002 and a huge amount of effort and consumer involvement to obtain federal organic standards.
Today’s Organic Market
Now it’s 2012 and organic food can be found in most mainstream markets. We have come a long way! The Organic Trade Association reports 2010 organic sales as 4% of total food sales, up from only 1.2% of food sales in 2000. Fruits and vegetables are the leading organic sector, representing nearly 12% of all U.S. fruit and vegetable sales. And these numbers include only certified organic farms. There are many more farmers growing with organic methods that have not obtained certification, and thus are not included in these statistics.
Organic is the future. It is our security. We know that to be sustainable an agricultural system must protect and preserve the soil and water and biological diversity and be based on renewable fertility.
Part ll. Does Certification Matter? . . .
Want more organic history? Doing Research? Read historic movement documents at Roger Blobaum’s organic history website.
© Atina Diffley 2012
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Atina Diffley is an organic consultant (Organic Farming Works LLC), educator, public speaker, and author of the 2012 memoir, Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works, published by the University of Minnesota Press. Until 2008, she and her husband Martin ran the Gardens of Eagan, one of the first certified organic produce farms in the Midwest. One of her favorite things in the world is rain.