Vermont farmers to create their own organic certification

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Dive Brief:

  • A group of farmers and scientists in Vermont have written standards for their own organic requirements, according to Grocery Business reports.
  • The plan is to launch the label this summer on 20 to 60 farms. These operations will add the label after they are certified by an inspector. The new label would list information that details if produce has been grown in soil or if meat and dairy products come from farms that pasture their animals.
  • Grocery Business said the new label is the result of controversy over whether the U.S. Department of Agriculture should include hydroponics and aquaponics in its organic certification program.The farmers don’t want to see the USDA Organic label on foods grown in water, and this new label would exclude hydroponic farming from certification. Large livestock farms that don’t pasture their animals, known as contained animal feeding operations, would not be eligible for the new certification either.

Dive Insight:

Today’s consumers increasingly are looking for organic and natural foods at the grocery store. Hoping to bank on that trend, food producers are slapping claims of natural and healthy ingredients or sustainable growing practices on their labels to the point that their meaning may be lost on shoppers.

Many food manufacturers work toward using the USDA Organic seal, but it’s uncertain whether that seal continues to mean very much. The reason is standards remain unclear and consumer confusion reigns as to what these labels mean. At least two independent efforts have launched to establish new organic certification programs, so things could get a lot more complex for the industry during the next few years. This Vermont proposal is likely to add to the confusion, even as consumers demand transparency about the foods they buy.

There’s certainly money to be made in organics. Sales of organic food grew 6.4% to a record $45.2 billion in 2017, according to the Organic Trade Association (OTA). Organic products now comprise 5.5% of the total retail food market in the U.S.

But the question remains, why is there so much trouble agreeing on the meaning of “organic” foods? In order to be considered organic, products should bear the USDA’s official organic seal, be certified organic, and contain 95% or more organic ingredients.

However, some reports have found certification agents, along with the USDA, have falsely labeled products as organic that were not. In other cases, companies hoping to appeal to consumers looking for organics without going through the certification process may use labels that look similar to the USDA’s, using vague terms that sound healthy. The risk of having too many organic labels with different requirements is that the confusion it creates bothers consumers and ends up hurting the overall organic movement.

Many consumers might not fully understand the difference between a label of “organic” compared with “natural.” There are not any strict standards exist for foods labeled as “natural,” and there is no certification process. The International Association of Natural Products Producers is trying to develop reliable definitions for natural food.

Time will tell whether or not this new certification out of Vermont will help or hurt consumers looking for transparency and full label disclosure. At the very least, the new standards could be a litmus test to see whether shoppers are willing to pay more for products grown in soil or for pasture-raised meat and dairy.

Via: Food Dive

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