ROYAL OAKS, Calif. - It's a debate that's concerned many on the Central Coast for years: is the organic food you buy, really organic? In a class action lawsuit against the organic company HerbThyme Farms Inc. in Pico Rivera, the California Court of Appeals ruled recently that consumers do not have the right to sue food producers for alleged violations of the Organic Food Protection Act because such actions would undermine federal enforcement.
According to a USDA certifier, the process for deeming a product organic is the most regulated and structured certification system for food there is.
The USDA has several tiers of evaluation, as well as inspectors, audits, tests and yearly follow-ups to make sure the food is really organic. The process to become organic-certified is not cheap, and can take years.
Javier Zamora, an organic farmer in Royal Oaks, says his crops are safe to eat right from the ground, and taste better than most too. He's a recently certified organic farmer and says the flavor and nutritional value of being organic is unprecedented.
"When you produce something organically, it takes a lot longer. You allow the plant to take its course until it grows in a more natural way," said Zamora.
However, Zamora does use fertilizers, but they are certified organic just like his land. When it comes to sensitive fruits like strawberries, where most growers use pesticides to keep away insects, Zamora says he has to work a little bit harder.
"You got to be out on the field, and checking to see how many spiders you have per plant, and then see what you are going to do to eliminate that. I usually will have to come up with a natural way, like purchasing other insects that will eat the insects that might hurt my plant," said Zamora.
Farming organic plants is no walk in the park. Zamora's land was certified after three years of not using any pesticide of herbicides, and if he is ever caught using something like that, they have to take away the certification for three years until the area is purged of non-organic chemicals again.
The work never ends, because you are subject to constant audits to make sure the farming methods and products you are using are only organic, followed by yearly and random inspections costing thousands of dollars.
"Obviously a lot of cash involved. There's an application fee, and there are fees when inspectors come out because they charge you by the hour," said Zamora.
Even Javier admits there are people out there trying to pass as organic.
"People can cheat, and it happens all the time. What I suggest you do if you are suspicious of someone is contact the certifier," said Zamora.
The best way to make sure your food is organic is look for the USDA label. In addition, it should always have the contact information for the certifier, so you can call that person directly to ask any questions about the food. A lot of companies will claim that they are sustainable and natural, but that doesn't mean much without the USDA label.