Knowing where our food, clothing, and other goods originate is crucial to understanding our impact on the world around us. According to the Organic Trade Association (OTA), more customers than ever are placing a high level of importance on buying organic products, to the tune of roughly $55.1 billion in 2019. This also means that more people are concerned about organic farming and whether a company has its organic certification or not.
As customers continue to invest in healthier, organic products, even the coffee industry is seeing a massive increase in sales. The National Coffee Association reports that 44% of coffee drinkers are “more likely, or much more likely,” to choose certified organic coffee.
Are Organic Products Better?
Understanding the difference between organic and non-organic products can be more complicated than you may realize. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the governing body that oversees the production and certification of organic goods. The USDA’s organic certification “indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods.”
Each industry has its own set of USDA standards it is required to follow for organic certification.
5 USDA Standards for Organic Farming
- Organic products must be produced on farms that have been free of most synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides for at least three years before the food is harvested.
- Nutrients and fertilizer will be provided through cultivation and tillage, crop rotations and cover crops, and supplemented with approved synthetic materials and animal and crop waste.
- Farmers must control weeds, pests, and disease through biological, physical, and mechanical control. If these methods are insufficient, a “biological, botanical, or synthetic substance approved for use on the National List may be used,” according to the USDA.
- Organic seeds and other resources must be used when available.
- Using ionizing radiation, genetic engineering, and sewage sludge are forbidden.
When it comes to determining whether or not organic products are better, it depends on how you look at them. While you may feel better about purchasing and eating organic food and shopping from brands that offer certified organic products, there is no substantial evidence that eating food with an organic certification will have a significant positive impact on your health. However, many good reasons exist to support organic products and those who create them.
Why Is Organic Farming Important?
Although there hasn’t been evidence to support a significant difference in nutrients between organic and non-organic produce, there is a difference in the impact of farming on the environment. According to Green Matters, organic farming uses natural methods of pest control and biological fertilizers to support crops' growth while refraining from using synthetic or chemical pesticides and fertilizers.
Mainstream farming still retains several properties of organic farming. However, the inability to use certain chemicals or genetically modified organisms that maximize the size of crops and animal products can significantly impact a farmer’s bottom line. With more people to feed worldwide than ever before, running operations in a way that is as cost-effective and efficient as possible is critical to everyone’s success.
Organic farming is more in tune with environmental considerations that are often overlooked by competitors. Things such as water conservation, soil erosion, the lasting impact that pesticides have on the surrounding soil, and how these chemicals can seep into the crops we eat are paramount to the success of these farmers and play a critical role in keeping the soil and surrounding land safe for the future.
How Does a Company Get Organic Certification?
When a farmer or a handling facility wishes to obtain organic certification, there is a five-step process that they must go through:
- Create an organic products system plan
- Implement the plan and have it reviewed by a USDA certifying agent
- Undergo an on-site inspection
- Receive an organic certification inspection report review from a USDA certifying agent
- Receive a decision and undergo annual inspections
Organic System Plan Creation
Although the process for producing organic products differs based on the operation, every organic certification system plan details the specifics of handling and farming that each applicant will adhere to. Plans include planting, tilling, harvesting, grazing, and storage. They also include transportation plans, as well as any approved substances that farmers will use, how the operation will monitor compliance and recordkeeping, and any preventative measures that farmers will use to prevent interaction of the organic products with non-organic crops or prohibited substances.
Implementing an Organic Certification System Plan
Once the plan has been created, the farm or organization implements the healthy organic practices, contacts an accredited certifying agent, and then submits its plan, application, and necessary fees. Once the application is reviewed and approved, an inspector will schedule and perform an on-site evaluation of the applicant’s process.
USDA Organic Farming Inspection
After the plan is submitted, the inspector performs an inspection and then makes a report that is sent to the certifying agent, who reviews the plan, application, and inspector’s report to ensure that everything complies with the USDA organic certification regulations. If the certifying agent agrees that everything is in place, they will issue an organic certification or organic farming certificate.
How Is Organic Coffee Different From Regular Coffee?
Now that we have a better understanding of organic farming and what it means to make healthy, organic choices, let’s explore how the coffee industry utilizes organic certifications to improve its beans.
As you’ve already learned, organic products are created with a focus on natural and sustainable practices. For example, when it comes to organic coffee, many people argue that it tastes better and is better for you than regular coffee (or what we will call conventional coffee). The belief that organic is healthier comes from how the beans are grown, treated, and harvested and how the introduction of chemicals can linger after the beans have been roasted.
When growing organic coffee, farmers rely on the natural shade of other trees to protect the beans. The trees also receive natural nourishment from compost, mulching, and crop rotation rather than chemicals, which many people believe makes them naturally higher in antioxidants.
When it comes to determining the bottom line, organic products are healthier – not only for you but also for the planet and the farmers who don’t have to subject themselves to handling dangerous chemicals and pesticides. There is also research that suggests that the use of organic farming can help slow climate change.
According to a healthy organic farming study conducted over 30 years by the Rodale Institute:
- Organic farming produces the exact crop yield as conventional methods
- In times of drought, organic farming produces a higher yield than conventional methods
- While conventional farming depletes organic soil matter, organic farming creates a more sustainable system by increasing organic soil matter levels
- Organic farming is more efficient and uses 45% less energy than conventional methods
- Conventional farming produces 40% more greenhouse gas than organic
- Organic farming is more profitable than conventional systems
Does Organic Coffee Taste Different?
If you only drink coffee for the caffeine, you may not notice a difference in the taste between organic coffee and conventional. This is especially true for those who prefer flavored blends, lattes, or the addition of creamers. However, if you enjoy the delicate nuances and subtle differences in flavors that different coffees provide, you’ll be able to distinguish between the two, so choosing organic coffee is an absolute must. Flavor preferences are subjective, and a cup of coffee can taste great one day and mediocre the next.
Dozens of different factors impact the taste of your coffee, including:
- The type of coffee bean
- Where the beans are grown geographically
- How the beans are grown, harvested, and processed
- The roasting methods
- The size of the grind
- The ratio of water to grounds
- Water temperature
- Seeping time
- The freshness of the beans
When you take all of these things into consideration, it comes down to the way your taste buds interact with each selection. Some people swear they can taste the difference between every different type of blend, bean, and flavor, while others are simply looking for a jolt of caffeine to help them power through their mid-afternoon slump.
How Do I Know if My Coffee Is Organic?
Due to the strict quality and labeling standards enforced by the USDA, it should be easy to identify whether or not the coffee you’re purchasing is organic. If you’re shopping online or in a store, look for the USDA Organic Certification label on the product’s packaging or in the product description. You should also be able to research the brand online and read about its certifications on its website.
Drinking healthy organic coffee from a coffee shop or chain store may be more complicated. Although you should be able to ask an employee about the origins of their coffee, it’s also essential to do your research. Employees may not be fully educated in the standards of USDA Organic Certification, so coming prepared is crucial when buying organic products.
When all else fails, look up the coffee shop’s website or look for pre-packaged coffee beans to see if the package indicates an organic certification or not. Also, be aware that some coffee shops may carry many styles of coffee, but not all are guaranteed to be produced by organic farming practices.
Should I Drink Organic Coffee?
If your goal is to have a positive impact on the environment and your own health, you should consider drinking organic coffee and purchasing more organic products. Of course, organic and healthy don’t always go together, but there is a definite correlation between fewer pesticides and environmental impact and sustainability.
Here are 5 great reasons why you should drink organic coffee:
- Helps support farm workers: Organic farmers are frequently Fair Trade Certified, ensuring that workers are paid a living wage and receive better treatment than many conventional farming operations. Although the cost of organic products is higher, you’re supporting important initiatives with your purchases.
- Sustainability: Using organic farming practices is better for the environment, which will help our planet continue to provide for us for years to come.
- Chemical use: Conventional coffee is one of the crops with the highest use of pesticides and other chemicals. Organic coffee is free of these chemicals, meaning that organic is healthier for you and the planet.
- Taste: Soil quality has a significant impact on the taste of your coffee. Avoiding chemicals means that you’re getting a more pure, honest flavor for your coffee beans.
- Health benefits: The antioxidants, minerals, and nutrients retained in coffee beans grown and harvested organically have multiple health benefits you won’t receive from conventional growing practices.
Healthy and Organic Coffee Certifications
If you want to make it a priority to choose healthy and organic products, it’s essential to look at what other certifications a brand can obtain. In addition to being certified organic, there are three other certifications that you should look for:
- Fair Trade Certified
- Rainforest Alliance
- Bird Friendly
Fair Trade Certified
When an organic product carries the Fair Trade Certified label, customers can trust that they are buying something that supports farmers, fishers, workers, their communities, and the environment. Often, these workers aren’t informed about their rights, don’t receive adequate compensation, and aren’t asked to provide feedback or input on the needs and changes of the processes they’re working on.
Fair Trade Certification also ensures that there is transparency into the manufacturing process for organic products. A lack of transparency can result in workers being exploited, environmental damage or disregard, and a lack of respect for community investments and involvement.
Fair Trade products can include:
- Coffee, tea, and other beverages
- Food and flowers
- Home goods
- Health and beauty products
The Rainforest Alliance was created to fight climate change and deforestation while supporting high-quality working conditions for its employees and advancing human rights. The organization is a registered non-profit that understands and promotes the web of connectivity between farmers, the planet, and the people who purchase the products. From droughts, floods, and famine to the impact climate change has on the length of the growing season, supporting nature-based solutions proposed by the Rainforest Alliance is crucial.
Forests provide shelter, water, air, medicine, and food to billions of people. Unfortunately, deforestation is occurring at an alarming rate, causing an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, forest fires, and rising global temperatures. The Rainforest Alliance has developed a plan that offers a 360-degree approach that tackles deforestation and environmental threats from the root (no pun intended).
In many cases, growing organic products such as chocolate, coffee, bananas, and timber can involve human rights violations. Although we have seen improvements, problems such as poor working conditions, forced and child labor, low wages, gender inequality, and disrespect for Indigenous land rights still occur in many areas. According to its website, “The Rainforest Alliance brings together producers, companies, governments, non-profit organizations, and consumers to advance human rights in the landscapes where we work.”
The Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute has created the Smithsonian Bird Friendly certification to serve as the environmental gold standard in producing sustainable foods. Purchasing cocoa or coffee that has been certified Bird Friendly helps protect habitats and biodiversity, fight climate change and support farmers who are dedicated to the conservation of wildlife habitats.
At the end of the day, making the switch to organic and healthy coffee by Coperaco and other products is a way to make a personal contribution to your health and the world around you.