Frequently Asked Questions
How does OrganicEye define organic/organics?
When the word was initially coined, it generally referred to farming in consort with nature rather than using toxic chemicals, and primarily involved shunning synthetic fertilizers (principally nitrogen sources) in favor of composted livestock manure. But after World War II, when synthetic pesticides became more ubiquitous, organic farming favored crop rotation and resistant cultivars over the use of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides.
When organics became commercialized in the 1970s and 1980s, most certifiers agreed on the standard of farms eliminating toxic agrichemicals for a minimum of three years prior to certification. That has now been codified in federal law.
At OrganicEye, we believe that organics is about more than just eliminating synthetic chemicals. Authentic organic practices promote superior environmental stewardship, humane animal husbandry, and economic justice for the farmers who produce our food.
Who is allowed to use the word “organic” on the label?
Today, unless you are exempt by virtue of being a direct farm-marketer with an annual sales volume of under $5000 per year, you can only use the word “organic” in your marketing or on your label if you are inspected annually and certified by a third party organization accredited by the USDA’s National Organic Program.
When did the organic movement begin?
While organic practices had been in use for thousands of years before the introduction of synthetic agrichemicals, what we refer to as the organic movement is thought to have begun in earnest in the early 1900s. Agricultural pioneers such as Albert and Gabrielle Howard, Rudoph Steiner, Lord Northbourne, Lady Eve Balfour, and George Washington Carver laid the philosophical foundation for organic farming. In the 1940s, J.I. Rodale—widely recognized as the founder of the organic movement in the United States—established the Rodale Institute and Rodale, Inc. to further study and spread the principles and practices of organic agriculture. The periodicals and books he published on organic farming and gardening materially popularized the approach to food production.
Additional information on the history of the organic movement can be found on the Rodale Institute website (https://rodaleinstitute.org/blog/leaders-organic-movement/). Noted organic farming advocate Roger Blobaum’s “Selected Organic History Milestones” (https://rogerblobaum.com/selected-organic-history-milestones/) provides an interesting and valuable timeline, as well. Mr. Blobaum is a longtime former formal advisor and mentor to OrganicEye’s Executive Director, Mark Kastel.
Are all products with the USDA Organic label created equally?
In theory, they should be. The primary impetus behind the passage of the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) by Congress in 1990 was to develop a single national organic standard. Prior to the passage of OFPA, there was a Byzantine patchwork of individual, private certifiers, and a few state laws that were not always compatible. Additionally, many of the certifiers would not recognize each other’s standards so it became impossible to create multi-ingredient certified organic products.
Even after the passage of OFPA, some certifiers found ways to profit handsomely by certifying factory dairies with as many as 20,000 head or more, egg “farms” with over a million birds, and/or giant hydroponic greenhouses with plants growing in liquid fertilizer solutions instead of rich organically-stewarded soil. While products from such operations may carry the USDA seal, we believe our money is better spent on food from farms following both the letter and spirit of the law. For a primer on how to choose well in the grocery aisles please check out this archived episode of Kastel’s Kitchen: https://organiceye.org/kastels-kitchen-the-secret-code-of-authenticity-on-organic-labels/
There are a lot of different seals on food these days. Why is it so important to protect the integrity of the USDA Organic seal?
Many add-on labels provide information about individual issues—some of which are already covered by organic certification. For example, a food certified as USDA Organic would, by definition, be GMO-free, while a product labeled “non-GMO” may or may not be organic. Other labels build on the USDA Organic standards to ensure that best (or better) practices are being followed. By working to protect the integrity of the existing USDA Organic seal—and hold the USDA accountable for fully and consistently enforcing the standards set by Congress—OrganicEye is endeavoring to ensure that consumers are truly getting what they’re paying for and that authentic organic farmers and producers have a level playing field for their wares.
How does corporate corruption in organics impact someone who is not a farmer or producer?
Many of us are willing to pay a bit extra for our food when it comes from farmers and businesses whose values align with our own. Based on the spirit and letter of the laws governing organics, livestock should be managed humanely—including having the opportunity to exhibit their natural instinctive behaviors outdoors (grazing for ruminants like cows, sheep, and goats, and forging for bugs and seeds for poultry).
And the soil where both feed crops for livestock and food for human consumption are grown should not include toxic agrochemical residues. If true organic practices are utilized, not only will these crops be safer, they will also be more flavorful and nutrient dense.
In the worst-case scenario, corruption means outright fraud—substituting conventional products and labeling them “organic” (with certifiers either not catching them or intentionally looking the other way). And that affects us all.
In addition, OrganicEye is also fighting a corrupt conspiracy between corporate lobbyists and the USDA, which is allowing livestock factories and industrial-scale operations to produce substandard organic food. That is not acceptable, and we will not rest until we can restore full integrity to the organic label.
As an independent organization, how does OrganicEye fight the corrupt system?
In terms of being investigators, we are not private eyes. We are public eyes. Our investigations are designed to empower organic stakeholders, farmers, ethical businesspeople, eaters, and other organizations to take action. Our work has also led to major prosecutions that we hope will act as deterrents going forward. Since much of what happens at the USDA is done under a cloak of secrecy, our goal is to lift that barrier and amplify the public’s ability to have an impact.
We speak truth to power!
What will my donation be used for?
OrganicEye is recognized as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt public charity by the Internal Revenue Service. All donations are tax-deductible to the full extent of law. We are chartered as a research and educational nonprofit. Donations pay for staff and expenses, including our website and other electronic communication vehicles, phones, printing, and postage, along with costs associated with our investigations. We are in the information business—information that should rightfully belong to the public. If the USDA was performing their job, as charged by Congress, our work would be less critically important.