Post # 2 of 4
Ever wonder what is behind the 100% Organic claim on the label of a product you are contemplating to purchase? Is it worth the extra money? And what’s up with these wines; this bottle says “Made with Organic Grapes” yet this label says “Organic Wine”. What is the difference? This post will address all those issues and is Part Two in exploring the timely trilogy of Organic, Sustainable and Biodynamic agricultural practices. While there are overlapping areas, each practice is unique and will be covered individually. A comprehensive article on Sustainability precedes this post (March 2016) and a fabulously interesting treatise on Biodynamic Farming will sequel this article.
Demystifying the Vine
Fueled by focus on protecting the environment coupled with concerns about sulphur, organic wines are one of the fastest growing segments of the market. Organic wines are typically good quality because of their careful handling. There is a difference between these two wines and here it is in a nutshell
This wine is made with 100% certified organic grapes
Sulphur may be added in the winemaking process up to 100 parts per million
May not use the USDA Organic Seal
Made with 100% certified organic grapes
- Avoids use of any substance banned on the USDA’s National Organic Practices (NOP) National List of allowed and prohibited product
Must adhere to all other NOP criteria discussed below and certified by a USDA accredited entity
May not use sulphur additions in the winery
May emboss the USDA Organic Seal
A wine labeled “Made with Organic Grapes” is simply that and is not bound to following the strict organic winemaking processes. A wine labeled “Organic Wine” is fully organic and adheres to processes required of all USDA certified organic farms and processing plants as described below. Other countries have their own procedures for certifying wines as organic and must be evaluated on an individual basis. For a list of U.S.Organic, Sustainable and Biodynamic Wineries click here
USDA National Organic Practices (NOP)
The USDA describes organic agriculture as the application of a set of cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that support the cycling of on-farm resources (sustainability), promote ecological balance, conserve biodiversity, specify use of organic materials and dictate organic livestock handling practices. These regulations are compiled in the USDA’s massive handbook titled National Organic Practices (NOP) and are summarized below.
Farmers, ranchers and other businesses that have satisfied the NOP standards may apply for certification from a list of third-party accredited agencies that are overseen by the USDA. The regulations stipulate that the applicant has used only organic materials in the worksite for a period of at least three years prior to application. Today, over 25,000 entities are certified organic and may proudly use the USDA Organic Seal.
The USDA has increasingly strengthened its oversight using methods such as unannounced inspections and laboratory residue testing to ensure the integrity of organic products from farm to market. They also investigate every consumer complaint and intentional infractions to the law impose fines up to $11,000 per violation. To maintain certification, organic farmers must update their organic farm plan each year and successfully pass an inspection to confirm that their practices match their records.
The United States government is very supportive of the National Organic Program. The USDA promotes organic agriculture and marketing efforts in all of its agencies and offers a wide variety of funding incentives including conservation grants, organic crop insurance, simplified microloans and program cost sharing.
Excerpts from the NOP Handbook
Promoting Ecological Balance through Organic Crop Management
Organic Crop Production Practices to Increase Soil Fertility – Soil quality is of paramount importance. Compost, animal manure and green manure are added to increase organic matter and nutrient content. Ground cover crops protect soil from wind and water erosion
Crop Rotation – Organic farmers are required to implement crop rotation. They typically follow one crop with another from a different crop family and wait a number of years before replanting the original crop. This practice is preventive in nature by interrupting insect life cycle, suppressing soil borne plant diseases, building organic matter, fixing nitrogen and increasing biodiversity
A variety of plant and animal life is a sign of a healthy ecosystem. Sustainable and Organic wine growers conserve wetlands, woodlands, wildlife; and protect native habitat, trees and plant species. They also encourage beneficial insects and natural predators such as owls, songbirds and other fowl which control populations of otherwise harmful rodents and pests. Winegrape growers plant vines around trees and away from waterways and vernal pools.
Farm Systems: Use of Natural Processes and Materials
Organic Seeds and Planting Stock are used whenever available – A conventional equivalent may be used when an organic seed does not exist provided it has not been genetically modified or treated with prohibited substances (e.g. fungicide)
Managing Pests, Weeds and Diseases – Pest management on organic farms relies on the ‘PAMS’ Strategy: prevention, avoidance, monitoring and suppression. Prevention and avoidance are the first line of defense against pests, weeds, and diseases. If pest or weed suppression becomes necessary, producers often use mechanical and physical practices, such as releasing predatory insects to reduce pest populations or rudiment grazing to control weeds. As a last resort, producers may work with their organic certifier to use an approved pesticide such as naturally occurring microorganisms, insecticides naturally derived from plants, or one of a few approved synthetic substances as stated in the NOP National List
Organic Processing Plants: Practices and Materials
Certified organic strictly prohibit ingredients or products produced using genetic engineering, sewage sludge, or ionizing radiation. Organic processors must prevent co-mingling (i.e. mixing or contact) of organic ingredients with non-organic ingredients and products throughout processing, including prohibited sanitizers.
Products Labeled Organic: Under USDA organic regulations, organic processors must use certified organic ingredients (for a minimum of 95% of the product) and only approved non-organic ingredients
Products Labeled as Made with Organic: Specified ingredients may include up to 30% non-organic agricultural ingredients, however, they must be approved for use in the NOP National List of substances
Organic Livestock Production Practices
Organic meat and poultry is much more expensive than its conventional counterpart. As well, animal welfare awareness is in the national conversation making livestock and poultry production practices a critical area of organic farming
Livestock Living Conditions and Facilities: Organic livestock must have access to outdoor areas, shade, shelter, space for exercise, fresh air, clean drinking water, and direct sunlight. Livestock shelters should give animals protection from extreme temperatures, adequate air circulation and ventilation, and space to exercise.
Grazing: Organic producers must give ruminant animals (e.g., cattle, sheep, and goats) access to pasture during the grazing season (the grazing season must be at least 120 days and may be as long as 365 days per year). Livestock may not be continuously confined. Temporary confinement is allowed under specific circumstances, mostly regarding the health and safety of the animal. Grazing livestock also provides producers with manure, a very important source of fertility in farming systems and an excellent means of recycling nutrients.
Animal Health: Organic animal health, like organic crop health, relies on preventative practices and systems. Balanced nutrition, exercise, and a low-stress environment contribute to building strong immune systems in animals. Vaccination and other preventative measures are common; antibiotics and growth hormones are prohibited. Organic livestock producers work to manage exposure to disease and parasites through grazing management, proper sanitation, and preventing the introduction of disease agents.
Organic Feed: Organic livestock must eat certified organic feed. Organic feed must be grown and processed by certified organic operations. Similarly, any pastures, forages, and plant -based bedding (such as hay) accessible to livestock must be certified as organically grown and processed. Certain additives, such as vitamins and minerals not produced organically, can be fed to organic livestock in trace amounts. Hormones used to promote growth, are strictly prohibited.
Animal Origin: Organic livestock generally must be raised organically since the last third of gestation. Birds used for poultry or egg production, may come from any source, but must be raised organically beginning the second day of life.
Current Regulations for Organic Poultry Production Practices
Currently poultry production practices are included in the umbrella provision for Livestock Practices. Thankfully USDA Agricultural Marketing Services, AMS, is proposing to add a new regulation § 205.241 entitled “Avian living conditions.” AMS chose to divide in two the existing living condition section, one for mammalian and one for avian, to provide for more clarity and specificity for each. The requirements in this new section would apply to all poultry species, including but not limited to, chickens, turkeys, geese, quail, pheasant, and any other species which are raised for organic eggs, organic meat, or other organic agricultural product. AMS is proposing to add § 205.241(a) to require organic poultry operations to establish and maintain living conditions that accommodate the health and natural behaviors of the birds. Let’s hope the wheels of bureaucracy work diligently on these much needed regulations. To peruse the AMS proposed regulations click here
In conclusion, I feel fortunate to live in an era and a country where sustainability, and ecological-environmental consciousness is part of our national mindset. We will make large strides if everyone accepts stewardship for their own domain.
USDA Introduction to Organic Practices September 2015
USDA National Organic Practices Handbook (NOP)
USDA Blog: Organic 101: Five Steps to Organic Certification
USDA Organic 201: Aug 2012 pdf
USDA Agricultural Marketing Service | National Organic Program
“ORGANIC LIVESTOCK AND POULTRY PRACTICES PROPOSED RULE”: Questions and Answers – April 2016