Talking ‘Organic’ with Your Customers

Talking ‘Organic’ with Your Customers

December 3, 2014

Karen Buch, RDN, LDN
Interim Editor, RDBA Weekly

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service, consumer demand for organically produced food is on the rise. In 2013, 81% of families reported purchasing organic at least sometimes, with 41% of those families being new entrants into the organic market (Organic Trade Association, 2013). The sales of organic products are estimated to produce $35 billion in 2014, with fresh fruits and vegetables outselling other food categories. 

Retail Dietitians are frequently asked to clarify questions related to both organically- and conventionally-produced foods to help their customers make informed purchasing decisions. Agriculture, farming practices and transparency related to food production are predicted to remain key areas of consumer interest in the coming year.Be prepared to offer guidance to customers that are curious about organic foods.

Offer accurate science-based information to receptive customers.
Three key discussion points may include:
1. Various Impacts of organic farming practices
  Impacts include environmental, nutritional, community, food safety and health.
2. Land management requirements for growing certified organic crops
  Land must be managed according to a set of defined organic methods. The farmer must
  maintain or improve the physical, chemical, and biological condition of the soil and minimize
  erosion. Crop rotation, cover crops, composting, use of animal manure or green manure, and
  minimization of tillage are all methods that can be used by organic farmers as part of their soil
  improvement plan, which must be approved by the certifying agency.

  • Land cannot be treated with synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, or herbicides for the three years prior to certification.
  • Allowable pest and weed management practices include physical, mechanical, and biological methods. Pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers must be from natural origin. Mechanical and physical methods may include the trapping of insects and the hoeing or burning of weeds. Producers cannot use excluded methods, such as genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, and sewage sludge.
  • If desired, the farmer may use allowable synthetic substances, as listed in section 205.601 of Title 7 in the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (e.g. copper sulfate, boric acid, and hydrogen peroxide). Approved synthetic methods may be used, as regulated by the National List.
  • Use of organic seeds is required, when available. The farmer must prove that no organic alternative was available, prior to using nonorganic seed, by contacting a minimum of three organic seed suppliers and assessing organic seed availability. Use of genetically engineered (GMO) seed is prohibited. 

3. USDA regulations related to certified organic livestock
Organic certification verifies that livestock are raised according to the USDA organic regulations throughout their lives. 

  • Organic animals for slaughter must be raised under organic methods from the last third of gestation. 
  • Poultry must be raised under organic methods by the second day of life.
  • Livestock must be fed 100% organic feed.
  • Cows and other ruminant animals must receive at least 30% feed from dry matter intake, and ruminants must be out to pasture for at least 120 days.
  • Producers may use vitamin and mineral supplements, as allowed by the National List.
  • Conventionally-raised dairy cows may be certified organic, when they are provided feed that is at least 80% organic for 9 months, followed by 3 months of 100% organic feed.
  • No growth hormones or antibiotics are allowed for any reason; vaccines are allowed.
  • A producer may not withhold treatment from an organic animal simply in order to keep that animal organic. If an organically-approved medical intervention fails, the animal must be given all appropriate treatments; however, if an animal receives a prohibited substance (e.g. antibiotics), the animal, and/or its products must not be sold as organic post-treatment.
  • All animals must have access to outdoors year round (with some exceptions*).

Point out all of the locations in the store where the customer can find and compare organic and conventional food choices.  A shopper that has developed a new interest in organic produce, for example, may also be interested in learning more about organic milk/dairy products, eggs, meats, baby foods, snack foods, complete meal solutions and more. Consider offering organic-focused store tours or implementing a shelf tag or signage program to make it easier for your customers to find organic food options.

Be able to describe common U.S. labeling practices for organic foods.

100% Organic
: A USDA agent has certified that all ingredients are organic, including any processing agents. This label may display a USDA Organic Seal.

Organic: All ingredients are certified as organic, with the exception of up to 5% non-
organic ingredients, which must appear on the National List. The National List is
reviewed every five years to ensure that all listed items meet the allowable standard
for organically-labeled foods. This label may display a USDA Organic Seal.

Made with Organic Ingredients: At least 70% of the ingredients in a product are certified organic. The remaining ingredients do not have to come from the National List, but they cannot be produced using prohibited methods (e.g. genetic engineering, sewage sludge, or ionizing radiation).

Specific Organic Ingredients: The word “organic” is included by producers in the ingredients list to identify an individual ingredient as organic; however, the producer may not place an organic seal or the word “organic,” on any main display area of the food package.

Transitional: Appears on products that have been grown under conditions that meet organic growing standards, but lack the required length of time for the land to be free of chemical usage (36 months) or the organic certification process has not yet been completed.