More than 90 fraudulent organic certificates have been issued since 2008. So, how much trust can we place in USDA-certified organic products?
Maybe 90 cases doesn’t seem too much, but think about how many cases that may have gone unnoticed.
Should you ignore USDA certified products and look instead for other organic product certifications, such as the EU (European organic certification)? What’s the difference for your dog?
Read along to discover what difference they make to your pet’s health.
Basically, the USDA organic seal certifies that 95% the ingredients used to produce the food are organic.
In the case of plant products, that means the plants have no genetic modifications – that’s right, GMO (Genetic Modified Organisms) seeds are not allowed to grow ingredients for organic dog food.
“Why not GMO?”, you might ask.
Well, GMO have been shown to cause damage to vital organs, such as the liver, kidney, pancreas, and reproductive organs, as told by Dogs Naturally Magazine.
USDA-certified organic plant ingredients also require documented proof that no chemicals were used on the soil – remember, chemicals don’t disappear by themselves. If they’re on the soil where a plant grows, and your dog eats that plant, the chemicals will end up in your dog.
The same applies to synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. They are also chemicals. None of them could be used on an organic product with the USDA seal.
What about the products of animal origin? If a dog food product shows the USDA organic seal, and it contains ingredients of animal origin, it is certified that the animals have not been treated with hormones or antibiotics and that they have been raised on organic feed and free pasture.
It doesn’t seem easy for farmers to meet all those conditions. But still, old Mc Donald puts all its efforts into complying with the regulations. But, is that enough? Let’s see.
Once the US-based farmer has converted all of its processes into organic, according to USDA guidelines, its farm, building, and other areas related to production, must undergo a thorough inspection process in order to ensure complete compliance with the regulations.
The inspection results are then reviewed to see if the farmer and their products meet the requirements to be awarded the organic certification.
The process is not even finished once the farmer earns the right to use the USDA Organic label on its products.
Each year they must renew the certification to show an ongoing commitment with mindful farming practices. Otherwise, the certification expires, together with the farmer’s right to use the USDA Organic label.
Taking all this into account, it seems that USDA-certified organic products are “really” organic, right? Well, it’s not that simple.
USDA allows for 5% non-organic ingredients in certified organic products.
That’s not all. To make things worse, organic is not a black or white thing for the USDA. It recognizes different “shades” of organic.
Besides the label that certifies at least 95% of organic content, there’s a “made with organic” grade, which requires only 70% organic products.
And then there’s the “Organic Ingredients” grade, which is almost the same as saying “pretty much nothing organic in here.”
But you, as a shopper, will see the word “organic” on the dog food packaging and feel tempted to buy it, thinking it’s better for your four-legged friend.
European dog food showing the European Union (EU) Organic seal must comply with a series of strict requirements for organic food production.
It also undergoes an intense control system that reviews each step of the food production chain.
Processors and traders, as well as farmers, must comply with EU requirements if they intend to sell products labeled as organic within the EU.
The criteria regarding GMOs are the same as the USDA’s: They are not allowed in any step of the food production chain.
There is one aspect that EU organic regulation emphasizes, and apparently, the USDA overlooked: closed versus open production cycles.
For the EU, closed cycles – production processes based on resources and inputs from the same farm – are preferred to open cycles, based on external resources.
But in case a farmer needs to open its production cycle to external resources, those should be naturally obtained materials, materials from other organic farms, natural substances, or mineral fertilisers with low solubility.
As we can see, the EU regulation gets into deeper detail regarding the materials used by farmers in their production cycles.
Are organic farmers in the EU allowed to use “some” non-organic products, like that 5% the USDA overlooks? Yes. But…
…the EU regulation states that synthetic resources can be used “only if” there are no suitable organic alternatives. And that synthetic resources must be picked from approved materials listed in the annexes to the regulation.
Not so much. If you put on a lawyer’s hat and look at the regulations through a magnifying glass, an important difference surfaces.
EU organic certification involves all links in the supply chain, stating that processors and traders, as well as farmers, must comply with the regulations.
The USDA doesn’t require brokers, distributors, and traders to be certified. And that’s an open opportunity for fraud, as the case of the certificate with Peyton Manning’s signature.
The important price premium we pay for organic dog food is a temptation for scammers to do whatever they can to certify regular, low-cost dog food as truly organic.
US organic products regulations need an update. In 2018, the United States government considered a bill aimed at closing the opportunities for fraud. But, as far as we know, the USDA has yet to update its organic regulations.
Until then, the green leaf from the EU organic label will remain more reliable for dog food than the white-green seal from the USDA.