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Organic Agriculture Basics

Certified organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. In order for food to be certified "organic," standards must be met at every stage—from the field or ranch, to the processing plant, and all the way to grocery store shelves. Organic crops are grown without conventional pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or sewage sludge, or genetic engineering. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals raised without antibiotics or added growth hormones.

In 1990, Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act to put the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in charge of developing consistent standards for food products labeled as "organic." After over a decade of regulatory efforts and input from farmers, consumers, environmental groups, and other stakeholders, the USDA organic standards were launched in 2002. UCS and other groups applauded the final standards for providing meaningful guidance to consumers who wish to support farmers and ranchers who avoid industrial agriculture practices that can harm human health and degrade the natural environment.

Since 2002, growth in the organic food sector has boomed, far out-pacing the conventional food market. Today, the USDA organic seal is the gold-standard in consumer food labels, thanks to its combination of meaningful standards, strong enforcement mechanisms, and strict requirements for verifiability of producer and processor claims.

UCS is a member of the National Organic Coalition (NOC), a group committed to protecting the strength and integrity of USDA's organic standards. In addition, NOC strives to strengthen the standards where necessary, and to advocate on Capitol Hill and at USDA for research and assistance to farmers that will enable continued growth in organic agriculture.

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