Tomato, tomahto, potato, potahto, organic, natural?
No, they’re not interchangeable. There are big differences, besides their colors. You may find the green and white seal that says USDA Certified Organic printed on a dog food package.
Then, you look at another product, with a more colorful seal that says Certified Natural. One looks serious and formal. The other seems to be more cheerful and friendly.
Ok. First, let’s look at the similarities.
Both organic and natural certifications ensure that the products bearing their respective seals are free of herbicides, pesticides, hormones, synthetic fertilizers, artificial flavorings or preservatives, and that there are no GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in their composition.
Then, why are there two separate certifications?
It is what you say magnitudes and semantics.
In simple words, organic certifications are issued by government-ruled organizations. Natural certifications, are not.
In the United States, behind the organic certification is the Department of Agriculture (USDA), which is responsible for controlling – among other things – that food packages, both for humans and for pets, don’t give false information about what they contain.
For example, if a product packaging says that the product is organic, the USDA is responsible for verifying that it really is.
In other countries or territories, the control of organic products is in charge of other entities. In Europe, the European Commission itself is in charge of issuing the certifications and controlling all the steps of the production of organic food products.
As governments regulate them, organic certifications force applicants to carry out long and bureaucratic processes to obtain the corresponding seal and print it on their packaging.
For example, products grown in the soil must be regulated by agencies that conduct soil testing. Additionally, the soil must have been pesticide-free for at least 3 years. Organic producers and processors are subjected to inspections – announced or nor – to ensure that all the certification conditions are continually met.
That’s why, in practice, only large companies can aspire to obtain organic certification, and this includes large-scale agricultural operations, large food manufacturers and large distributors. No small-scale farmer can afford the effort, cost, and time required to certify their crops as organic.
The same applies to small food manufacturers. Even though raw materials and products meet all the conditions to be considered organic, they are unable to use the word organic on their packages or labels.
So, because the word “organic” is somewhat off-limits to those that don’t have all the resources to get officially certified, many choose to replace it with the word “natural.”
That’s why there are products that are naturally grown, naturally obtained, naturally manufactured, or simply classified as “natural,” without making it very clear what that means for your dog’s health.
The problem with the word “natural” is that since there are no laws that regulate its use on food labels or packaging, anyone can use it. So, you don’t really know if the product is really ‘natural’ as you would want.
A pet food can display the word “natural” on its packaging as big and conspicuous as its manufacturer wishes, even if it contains artificial elements that eventually end up in your dog’s body. Even if the farming or production of the product involves processes that take away all the nutritional properties that could be beneficial to your beloved Sparky.
Since governments are not interested – at least, not the USDA – to avoid the abuse of the word “natural”, some independent entities decided to take the bull by the horns and take charge of establishing standards for the qualification of natural products.
Yes. As if there weren’t enough certifications, new ones emerged to fit the needs of different farmers and producers. But also to increase our fatigue when we walk the store shelves looking for food for our canine friends.
But, among the many initiatives behind food product certifications, some genuinely seek to give buyers peace of mind when looking for natural products.
This is the case, for example, of CNG, Certified Naturally Grown. This organization was formed in 2002, the same year that the National Organic Program (NOP) went into effect. The founders of CNG were farmers from the mid-Hudson Valley.
Help for small farmers and for their customers.
CNG intended to provide a necessary complement to the NOP, to include farmers who produce food for their local community. The CNG program gives visibility to their natural growth and breeding practices, while giving their customers confidence in the products. Some CNG certified farmers even achieve organic certification years after participating in the CNG program.
CNG is a private, non-profit organization that is responsible for granting certifications based on a participatory guarantee system (PGS). This model uses peer reviews, where farmers inspect each other. In this way, knowledge sharing among farmers about best practices is promoted. In turn, it encourages the formation of networks that strengthen the farming community.
The PGS model is less bureaucratic than official certification processes, such as those used by organic certifications. In turn, the costs of obtaining a natural certification are lower.
In the particular case of CNG, the certification process is completely transparent and open to the public. Each producer adhering to the CNG program makes himself known through a profile on the organization’s website.
If you buy a CNG certified food product, you can find the producer on the website and verify their information. If you want to spin the fine details, you can even review scanned images of their inspection reports and their signed statement.
Unfortunately, you will not find CNG certifications in processed foods, as the CNG specifically focuses on the production of livestock, crops, flowers, mushrooms, beekeeping, and aquaponics. You can only take advantage of this certification if you buy the raw materials from certified farmers and make the food for your pet with your own hands.
You can find other labels or stamps on food containers that ensure that the product is natural, but since they are not certifications, you will not have any guarantee that they are truly natural.
Nature’s Pavillion explains that the word “natural” on a product can mean many different things, depending on who makes it and where it is sold. [Använd och omarbeta Pavillions infographic.]
USDA gives a definition of what the word “natural” should mean applied to specific products, such as meat and poultry.
That definition tells that a natural product contains no artificial ingredients or added colors, and that it undergoes minimal processing. That is, it is processed in a way that does not alter the natural properties of the product.
What the USDA does indicate is that the word “natural” must be accompanied by an explanation of what it means. For example, it should say that it does not use artificial ingredients and that it is not industrially processed.
However, that definition does not have the character of certification, which means that the USDA does not inspect producers or manufacturers or distributors to ensure compliance with what the label says.
The meaning of the word “organic,” on the other hand, is more precisely defined. It is associated with an official certification. When a product bears the organic product seal, it is known that all the links in its production and distribution chain have been controlled to verify that none of them violate the commandments of organic certification.
However, you do need to note what to look for in a certified organic logo.
That being said, remember organic-certified products are made and sold by big companies, with fat wallets, and many contacts in high places. So they have the power to manipulate – or at least to twist lightly – the rules to suit their needs. That’s why, even though official bodies endorse organic certifications, their veracity is not absolute.
The sad thing is that organic certification is out of the reach of small farmers and producers. Many natural products that would be truly beneficial to your pet – even more than some organic products – can only include the word “natural” in their package, or at most, qualify for independent natural certification.