Glossary of Organic Agriculture Terms
Bisphenol A, or BPA
A genetically modified organism, or GMO, is an organism whose genes have been tinkered with using genetic engineering techniques (as opposed to traditional methods of selective breeding which produced things like livestock breeds and vegetable varieties). This ranges from corn that has been altered to be tolerant of certain pesticides to cats that glow in the dark. GMO’s also include bacteria & small mammals that have been altered for pharmaceutical use, or “pharming.” However, when most folks talk about GMO’s, they are talking about crops. Agriculturally, the first GMO product to hit American shelves was the FlavrSavr Tomato 1994, and today, consumers are offered an increasing number of GMO products including cotton, corn, and soybeans: “As of June 30, 2005, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Agriculture Statistics Service (USDA/NASS) reported that transgenic varieties comprised 87 percent of all soybean acreage planted in the United States (up from 60 percent in 2001, and 85 percent in 2004). As of the same date, transgenic corn acreage planted was 52 percent (up from 47 percent in 2004). Transgenic upland cotton was 79 percent (up from 76 percent in 2004). “It is no exaggeration to say that the majority of these commodities grown in the United States are GMO crops. Note that any product labeled certified organic cannot include any GMO components.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, is a broad, environmentally-friendly system of pest control used in both livestock and vegetable production. IPM focuses on keeping pest populations below the level where they begin to have a negative economic impact on the farmer instead of simply eradicating the entire population. Farmers using IPM use a variety of techniques to control pests, only one of which is the use of chemical sprays, which are typically used in conjunction with other methods such as traps, introduction of predator species, and crop rotation. Currently, vegetables, meat, eggs, and dairy produced using IPM are not identified as such to consumers. For more on IPM applications in livestock, click here.
Non-Certified Agriculture tends to refer to farming that adheres to all the standards set forth by the National Organic Program, but is not officially inspected or certified to use the USDA organic seal, or the word organic as a labeling claim.
Use of the word “organic” by non-certified farmers continues to spark controversy. Technically, a producer who makes more than $1000 per year may not use the word organic unless officially certified. Certified growers, and representatives of the National Organic Program argue that the use of the word “organic” by non-certified growers lends to confusion in the consumer market, and jeopardizes the integrity of the organic seal. Non-certified growers counter that many people used organic practices before the word was regulated, and that the costs and due diligence associated with maintaining certification are often not worth the trouble, particularly when those growers have regular, face-to-face contact with their end-consumer, and can describe their farming methods in detail to their buyers. Still, the USDA’s organic program remains as the only nationally recognized and accepted program that is most understood by consumers to translate into clean, safe food. As the market for organic grows, there is no doubt that all growers using non-chemical, sustainable farming practices depend on the organic program and the market it has created in order to survive.
As a consumer, your purchases will most likely depend on how close you can get to the farm gate. You may choose to buy non-certified food, especially if you know the farmer who grew it and you can ascertain that it is clean and healthy. In the Southeast, the number of un-certified farmers far outnumber those who are certified organic, so it behooves you to form some relationships to determine how important that “O” word is when voting with your food dollar.
Because of their use in cosmetics, studies have shown paraben-concentrations to be much higher in women than men.
In the body, parabens have shown estrogen-mimicking behaviors, which is, perhaps, why some studies have shown a correlation between paraben-levels and breast cancer–one of these studies, in fact, detected paraben compounds in the tissue of breast cancer tumors. The fact that when parabens are consumed, they do not tend to linger in the body leads some specialists to believe that the parabens present in cancer tissues came from something applied to the skin, suggesting that a deodorant or body spray may be the culprit. At the same time, no causal relationship has been found, and other specialists in the field believe it very unlikely that parabens have anything to do with breast cancer.
Cattle *-Shall never be confined to a feedlot.
Sheep *-Shall never be confined to a feedlot.
Swine *-Shall have continuous access to pasture for at least 80% of their production cycle .
* FSIS requires product labels from red meat species with these claims also include the
following further qualifying statement : “Free Range-Never Confined to Feedlot.”
However, this label does not preclude the use of antibiotics or hormones or prevent farmers from supplementing their animals with grain or a grain-based feed. Similarly, the use of the term “pasture-raised” is not regulated and, therefore, can be used rather loosely. The solution? Know thy farmer! Pasture-raised can evoke all kinds of bucolic visions in your mind, but be sure you know what visions it evokes for the person producing your meat.
Because of their chemical structure, phthalates breakdown easily as plastic ages, and these chemicals are then released into the air and leach into food. Fortunately, factors outdoors such as sunlight and heat continue to degrade phthalates when released into the environment; however, their lifetime indoors is longer, making their concentration in homes higher. This behavior is troublesome because phthalates act like hormones in the body and can wreak havoc on your endocrine system. Essentially, they confuse hormone receptors and have been shown to cause reproductive and neurological damage. The risk is particularly high in children and infants because of their propensity for putting objects in their mouths, which led Congress to ban the use of six of the twenty-five most common phthalate compounds in toys. However, more recent findings suggest that the risk does not stop with children, as in a 2010 study, 82% of women tested had phthalates present in their bodies.
Currently, there are no specific labeling requirements for phthalates; however, they are used in some–but not all–PVC compounds. PVC plastics are labeled “Type 3” for recycling reasons, but as not all PVC plastics contain phthalates, this is not a consistent identifier of the chemical. So how do you avoid exposing you and your family to these noxious chemicals? Cut down on plastics and send your congressmen and women strongly-worded letters about label requirements.
Recombinant bovine growth hormone, or rBGH, is the synthetic version of bovine somatotrophin, or bST, which is a naturally occurring hormone produced by a cow’s pituitary gland. It is administered to dairy cows to increase milk production. While the FDA issued a report stating that milk produced with the aid of rBGH was safe, the health of the cows is another story.
Cows treated with rBGH experienced “widespread and virulent outbreaks of mastitis” which, in turn, created the necessity for antibiotic treatments. Bad news if you’re a cow, but what about if you’re a person? While, milk from cows treated with rBGH has not shown to have higher levels of growth hormone than untreated cows, according to the American Cancer Association “Of greater concern is the fact that milk from rBGH-treated cows has higher levels of IGF-1, a hormone that normally helps some types of cells to grow. Several studies have found that IGF-1 levels at the high end of the normal range may influence the development of certain tumors. Some early studies found a relationship between blood levels of IGF-1 and the development of prostate, breast, colorectal, and other cancers, but later studies have failed to confirm these reports or have found weaker relationships. While there may be a link between IGF-1 blood levels and cancer, the exact nature of this link remains unclear.” It’s also unclear if drinking milk from treated cows actually increases a person’s IGF-1 blood levels, either. Many companies producing milk have begun labeling their products rBGH-free when applicable, but the FDA has recommended the inclusion of the phrasing “FDA states: No significant difference in milk from cows treated with artificial growth hormones.” Buyer beware?