What Is "Organic"?I posted this to show the confusion which exists about the term "organic". I don't share my opinions much on my blogs. I try to post facts. But this term, organic, has me concerned. The term "organic" is confused by the public. This confusion leads to sales opportunities. Some marketing people capitalize on this confusion. Others don't know the difference. If this confusion is not addressed or removed it could open the doors towards abuse in marketing and sales.
Three types of "organic" products; 100% Organic, USDA Certified Organic and just plain "Organic". What do they mean?
"Organic" CompostI do quite a bit of consulting. Now that I am retired from my University position I am free to do that. It gives me a lot of chances to see things that I don't see in academics. One of my consulting jobs is with a composting company in the United States. One of the products they market and sell is a compost made from biosolids. The biosolid content was somewhere around 20% by volume. Most composts made from biosolids are 100% "organic" and high in phosphorus. When a consumer asks if this product is organic, what is the correct response? In one sense of the word, it meets this definition 100%! But is this what the consumer is really asking or wanting?
|Compost, all organic components made from plants, made without composted biosolids but nitrogen fertilizer is added to speed up composting. Without additional nitrogen added, composting can take a very long time..|
"Organic" WeedkillesThere is a weedkiller, that is 100% organic and high in phosphorus. It is extremely effective and systemic as well. In other words, if I applied it to the leaves, the plant could take it to the underground roots and kill the entire plant.
If I told this to a consumer they might buy it, relying on the word "organic"as the key word for purchasing. What if I told you that this description is 100% accurate but it describes the weedkiller called Roundup? Would the consumer still buy it?
Technically speaking, Roundup is a 100% organic, high phosphorus, systemic weedkiller. Consumers looking for a 100% organic product might be sold this when it's not what they wanted.
|This is the active ingredient in Roundup weedkiller. It is an "organic" compound, high in phosphorus.|
"Organic" FertilizersWhat is an "organic" fertilizer? These same principles might apply to fertilizers as well. Unlike "mineral" fertilizers, urea fertilizer, 46-0-0 or 45-0-0 could be classified as "organic" because, like glyphosate, it has an "organic backbone" in its chemical structure.
|The basic structure of urea, whether it comes from animal waste or manufacturing|
"Organic" LabelThe organic label for food in the United States must meet some very specific, legal requirements before this label can be applied to it. These legal requirements are required by the United States Department of Agriculture before this product is "awarded" this label.
The USDA requires a fair amount of bookkeeping that must be presented to a certifying body before the "organic" award is granted. There is fraud sometimes. There are unscrupulous producers who lie about the legal requirements and obtain an organic certification when they shouldn't. Hopefully, the number of producers who are fraudulent are in a very small minority but they are out there.
|Add captionThis is the "Certified organic label owned by USDA. All products awarded this certification can apply it to their label. Are there fraudulent products which receive this certification? Yes, but hopefully the numbers are very small.|
Compost Made from Animal and Plant WasteIf the nitrogen comes from animals or plants then its "naturally organic", right? But is that type of "organic" safe? Isn't that what we are looking for? The word "compost" is frequently equated to "organic", "natural" and "safe". But is it?
|Compost piles "cold composted" or "hot composted". The difference can be the presence of weeds when it is used or an abundance of potentially life threatening microorganisms. Compost does not necessarily mean the product is "safe".|
|Compost thermometers are used in commercial composts to kill weed seeds, human pathogens and indicate when the pile needs to be turned or "aerated".|
Is it a "Vegan" compost made from all plants? Were the plants sprayed, injected or their roots drenched in pesticides before they were cut down and chipped? Were mineral fertilizers used in composting? Were those mineral fertilizers "safe" to use?
And finally, how was the compost "made" or managed" Commercial composts raise the temperatures of the compost pile high enough and long enough to kill potentially harmful microorganisms and kill weed seeds. Non-commercial composts may not. Where is the quality control?