Go Ask Alice: Organic?

Posted on 23. Nov, 2017 by in Ask Alice, Uncategorized

 

Q:  “I noticed organic feed is listed on your site. Do you carry organic chicken layer feed? I sell my eggs as organic, but do not need certified organic feed, just feed raised using organic methods,” asked Krista.

A:  This is a conversation I have had many times in person with customers, USDA/NOP Organic inspectors, and anyone who will listen. I need to be careful how I phrase things, because the word “Organic” is much more controversial than you might think, and its use is strictly legally regulated.

I’d like to think of “organic” as a generic term, meaning something is raised in a natural way, without artificial pesticides or herbicides, certainly not genetically engineered or containing artificial ingredients. I got involved in organics with a lower-case “o” fifty years ago when I was young and it was a new thing.

It is not actually OK for me to think of “organic” as I’d like to.  That’s because I am a manufacturer and own a USDA National Organic Program Certified Organic feed mill.  See all the capital letters?  The word Organic itself has a legal definition, and while a homesteader probably wouldn’t get in trouble for describing something as organic without getting the United States Department of Agriculture involved, I would.

Here’s what Organic is:

Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods. The organic standards describe the specific requirements that must be verified by a USDA-accredited certifying agent before products can be labeled USDA organic.

USDA/NOP is abundantly clear that unless the feed is USDA NOP Certified Organic you can’t claim it is organic, lower-case “o” or capital letter “O” either one.   That is true whether it includes organic ingredients or not.  So even though the mill is certified to make organic feeds, I only do the paperwork and have my certifier review very few of them.  Since most of the local peas, wheat, and seeds we use are not certified organic, we can’t claim organic status for those feeds that contain them, and that is most of the feeds.

We’ve got tons and tons of beautiful USDA National Organic Program Certified Organic flax seed, pumpkin seed, and sesame seed on our shelves, and once we mix them with anything that is not certified – heritage millet, for example — none of the finished feed is organic.

To make organic feeds that are USDA NOP compliant, we’d need a reliable supply of non-imported organic peas  or would have to use organic soybeans for necessary proteins.  I don’t want to use the soybeans since they are from overseas, and local organic peas are in irregular supply and costly.   We could use USDA NOP Certified Organic soymeal from China or India and be legally Organic, but we won’t. We’re committed to sources we know and trust.  So while we could make USDA Certified Organic feeds, we don’t very often.  The problem is in the protein sources, and we’re not willing to compromise on those.  We won’t make a substandard feed, and we won’t use sources we don’t trust.   We won’t use ingredients that would give our labels good numbers but would be ineffective for the animals, either.  That’s another whole story.

In order to make USDA Certified Organic feed, mills need to have particular capabilities for separate storage, handling, equipment and its use, and meet other requirements.  We must be inspected, handle record keeping, traceability and paperwork, buy and store ingredients in an approved way, use approved methods of pest control, and the list goes on.  In general, organic certified mills are supposed to be held to a higher standard than are ordinary mills, and we are comfortable with that.  We think mills should be doing most of that anyway.  People who don’t know us personally and haven’t seen the mill can see that USDA certification and get an idea of our standards.  Having organic certification doesn’t mean we must build organic feeds; it means we are capable of doing it.  And between you and me and the gatepost, it’s what we do anyway, so it is not that much more  trouble.

So since it is not a perfect world, we make the best feed we can with ingredients we trust.  Generally that means the resulting feeds are non-GMO, corn and soy free and made with local ingredients, they are made in a certified mill using organic procedures, but they are not certified organic.  It’s a compromise we choose to make with the realities of the real world and the marketplace.  It suits a lot of people, but not everyone.  Most of our folks, most of the time are comfortable with the road we have chosen.  Lots of mills have chosen the other road, use imported products, and their products can be certified organic regardless of the country of origin of the ingredients.  They and their customers are fine with that, and the USDA Certified Organic seal can be on the products for farmers that need that official seal.

If you need the USDA seal in order to sell your products, many of our manufactured feeds may not meet your needs.  If you don’t, but you want the domestic ingredients and other benefits we offer, we may be just right for you.

 

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