Many questions, some answers

How can an ear of corn be 95 percent – or 70 percent – organic? Does that mean it was sprayed with a pesticide once?

That was just one of the questions Jennifer Wolcott got from co-workers as she was researching and writing about the new federal regulations governing organic food (See story.).

All of the answers may not be clear for some time – these are government regulations, after all. But I, for one, was relieved to find that it didn't – on the surface, anyway – seem as complicated as I'd feared.

Take the question of how an inspector determines to what degree a product is organic.

A tomato or a peach is either organically grown or it isn't. So far, so good. But prepared foods can be organic "by degree." Maybe five of the ingredients in a pesto are organically grown and one isn't. That's where the 70 percent to 94 percent rule – allowing the seller to display the words "made with organic ingredients" – applies.

How can a food be "certified organic" and still contain a small amount of nonorganic ingredients? Some common ingredients – salt and baking soda, for instance – aren't available organically.

The rules may not end confusion about what's organic, though. Two of the small merchants interviewed for the story are having problems meeting the standards. The deli owner may say her homemade soup contains "mostly organic ingredients." A sign over the farm stand's bin of beans says "ours." That tells long-time customers that they were grown without pesticides, although they haven't been certified.

Is this going to get as perplexing as when there were many definitions of organic? Stay tuned. Homefront will keep following this issue and how it plays out in our lives.

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