Topic Progress:


  • “Organic” has a very specific definition under the USDA. (0:58)
  • “Organic” is a legally regulated labeling claim in most countries. (2:15)
  • Organic farming has a long and varied history, but we’ll focus on two important years: 1992 and 2002. (3:25)

Welcome to this course on organic food production. In the following lessons, we’ll focus on the relevant laws surrounding organic production in the United States, including labeling, pros and cons, practices and issues facing organic producers, and more.

So what does organic mean?

USDA Definition of Organic Agriculture

Organic agriculture produces products using methods that preserve the environment and avoid most synthetic materials, such as pesticides and antibiotics. USDA organic standards describe how farmers grow crops and raise livestock and which materials they may use.


Congress described general organic principles in the Organic Foods Production Act, and the USDA defines specific organic standards.

Overall, USDA oversees organic farmers and businesses to make sure that organic food is produced with organic methods.

They support organic agriculture in all USDA agencies. (Source)

An important thing to note from this definition is that “organic” is a legally regulated labeling claim in most countries. That’s different from other labeling claims like “natural”, which is not legally regulated. This is not true of organics, although there are some differences in organic regulation between different countries. We’ll talk about labeling more in a later lesson topic.

Organic farming has a long and varied history

There are many books available on organic farming and its history. However, in this course, we’ll focus on just two years:

1992: USDA establishes the NOP (National Organic Program) and appoints National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).

2002: National Organic Standards become law after years of development and public comments.

Today, organic production is 4% of the size of conventional production. (This percentage is growing.) Fruits and vegetables represent the largest proportion of organic production revenue: 43% in 2012, followed by dairy. The most recent industry report says fruits and vegetables represented 36% of organic production revenue in 2014.

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