Is All Natural Enough?
The natural products industry was founded with the laudable goal of providing consumers with all-natural products to support and promote a healthy lifestyle. In reviewing the history of the natural and organics industry, it is puzzling why and how natural products began to deviate from the principles of the founders of organics.
Currently, natural products in all categories are not required to test for harmful pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, hormones, sewage sludge, GMOs and other possible contaminants. So although the term "natural" suggests ingredients that are much better than synthetics and chemically induced formulas, one cannot overlook the possibility that products that health and environmentally conscious consumers are seeking may not always be formulated to ensure healthy and ecological effects. The potential presence of health-hazardous pesticides alone is one obvious factor that can't be ignored if products contain ingredients sourced from non-organic agriculture. Conversely, a review of the history of organics shows the commitment of certified organic to the highest standards including the avoidance of all harmful agricultural and ingredient manufacturing practices.
This is a historic time for natural and organic products when important legislation is on the table. We must all be more vigilant than ever to protect and promote the very highest standards. It would be ideal for the entire natural and organics products industries to be on the same page with regard to strict standards for ingredients and product formulation, acknowledging the importance of firmly committing to 100% organic production with strict supply chain verification in all product categories.
History of Organics
The term “organic” can be described as food grown without the assistance of man-made chemicals. The beginnings of the organic movement can be traced back to the early 1800s. In 1920, ecologically minded farmers began to form associations to protect the agricultural industry from synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides. As a result Demeter International in Germany was founded to encourage biodynamic farming and promote organic certification. This was supported by the Soil Association in the United Kingdom and Rodale in the United States. By 1940, synthetic pesticides and herbicides began to be used in America and some of the forefathers of all-natural organic production began to publish their experiences farming organically. This included Walnut Acres, which later offered one of the first organic and natural food products catalogues.
In an effort to connect buyers and sellers of organic foods and to inform consumers about the nutritional benefits of the natural nutrition industry as well as addressing the needs of industry members, manufacturers and retailers, natural industry non-profits were formed to protect the natural health industry.
In 1962, despite widespread controversy and opposition Silent Spring was published citing Rachel Carson's research on the hazards of DDT and the negative effects of pesticides on the environment. This work has been credited with the origin of the modern environmental movement. In 1967-68, several leading natural and organic companies were founded including Aubrey Organics, Eden Foods and Tom's of Maine known for some of the first personal care products. In October, 1969 at the National UNESCO Conference in San Francisco a global holiday to celebrate Earth's life and beauty meant to advance world peace was proposed. The first celebration of Earth Day took place on March 21, 1970. In June of the same year, the Earth Day Proclamation, which outlined the principles and responsibilities necessary to care for the Earth, was signed by 36 world leaders including UN Secretary General U Thant and Mikhail Gorbachev. Earth Day is now celebrated globally on April 22 and has been declared a national holiday!
In 1970, California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) became the first organization to certify organic farms in North America. Two years later, Demeter, the Soil Association and Rodale Press joined together to form IFOAM – The International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements. One year later, DDT was banned in the United States and organic certification was put in place for organic and natural food and product growers and manufacturers. The use of the organic logo and labeling followed shortly afterwards. Food co-ops began to sprout up with Frontier Natural Products Co-op being one of the first, later developing a fine line of organic and natural herbs and spices. By 1989, the National Resources Defense Council released a research report regarding Alar, a chemical plant growth regulator sprayed primarily on apples. It was voluntarily withdrawn by the manufacturer after the EPA proposed banning it due to concerns about cancer risks.
The Rise of National Organic Standards and Organic Trade
In 1990, the U.S. Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act which established the framework for creating the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) an advisory board that makes recommendations to the US Secretary of Agriculture regarding organic foods and products. One of the most important functions of NOSB is the review of the National List of Approved and Prohibited Substances.
At that time, the organic industry's estimated sales were more than $1 billion. Ten years later, organic industry members and consumers sent more than 275,000 comments to the USDA via the National Organic Standards Board to include provisions not previously recommended to protect the organic standard. A major study by the USDA's Economic Research Service regarding the status of natural health foods in the United States verified that certified organic cropland had more than doubled in the last 10 years. Prohibitions on irradiation, sewage sludge and genetically engineered seed were reinstated and the Organic Trade Association was formed in 1998. Defined as a membership-based business association for the organic business community in North America, the mission of the OTA is to promote and protect the growth of organic trade to benefit farmers, the public, the economy and the environment. OTA is also a member of IFOAM and the International Working Group for Global Organic Textile Standards.
Many forward moving achievements have continued to act as milestones in organic food and product production in the last 10 years. As of 2014 sales of organic food and non-food products broke prior records by 11.3% totaling $39.1 billion and growing. Consumers want foods and products which are healthy, sustainable and which protect the planet. This is the growing trend.
The natural and organics industries are urged to come together and find ways to protect and support the very highest standards for product purity for maximum profit, consumer health, environmental protection and to create a better world!
Simi Summer, Ph.D. is an organic advocate, independent researcher, educator, and freelance writer. She is a strong proponent of organic consumer education and informed consumer choices.
NOTE: The opinions expressed in bylined articles are not necessarily those of the publisher.
Posted on WholeFoods Magazine Online, 3/24/2016