You probably see the word “organic” on almost every other food product in today’s modern industry. Whether it’s on vegetables, meat or even coffee, organic options are overwhelming, but that doesn’t mean they’re authentic.
Many consumers are confused as to what exactly the word means, and what the requirements are to qualify as an organic coffee. So, is there really a difference between organic coffee and non-organic blends? Let’s find out.
Definition of Organic Fair Trade Coffee In the United States, qualifying as an organic fair trade coffee and receiving the coveted “USDA Organic” seal of approval is no simple feat. The Department of Agriculture sets standards that must be met for a product to carry the label, and this usually means that coffee cultivators cannot use any type of synthetic substance such as pesticides, fertilizes and herbicides. To receive the seal of organic approval, at least 95% of the beans must have been grown in the organic conditions mentioned above.
Simply put, organic coffee means that the coffee you are consuming was cultivated and harvested in a way that did not harm the environment through the use of synthetic, non-natural substances. These substances, while harmful to the human body over a long period of time, also harm the environment, which is why the lack of them makes organic coffee so appealing.
What Does That Mean for the Producer and Consumer? While organic growing methods do tend to help the environment as opposed to traditional growing with fertilizers and pesticides, the organic standard is more so used to assure consumers that there are no added ingredients.
In regards to the producer, there exist many organizations that oversee the certification process of receiving an organic labeling. While it varies from country to country, most coffee farms can only receive this certification if their current growing methods do not use chemicals and pesticides. If they used chemicals in the past, they must refrain from using them for three straight years to be eligible for the certification in the future.
As well, coffee producers are required to practice sustainable growing techniques, such as rotating their crop to prevent the soil from becoming over-saturated and nutrient deficient.
How Does Organic Coffee Help the Farmers?
While this doesn’t directly impact the lives or wages of coffee producers as it focuses more on the product and less on the work done, a seal of organic certification indirectly benefits all workers handling coffee throughout the process. The use of pesticides can become a serious health risk if exposure continues for years. This is obviously not an issue for coffee collectors in countries and farms where 100% organic coffee is being produced.
What About Small Coffee Farmers?
Throughout the coffee cultivation process we often forget that small farms all across the world are working hard to cultivate some of the best coffee you’ve probably never tasted. They often use traditional growing and harvesting methods due to a lack of funds to buy heavy machinery and chemicals, which is actually part of the reason why their coffee tastes so good!
While most of these small coffee farmers would qualify for a third-party certification program, they often lack the necessary budget to participate in and pay for the inspections to get the certification. Therefore, they cannot receive a higher price for their beans, despite producing some of the best quality coffee in the world.
This is just one of the obstacles that small farmers face when cultivating and selling their product. Interested in learning more about the lives, struggles, and dreams of small Colombian coffee farmers? Subscribe to Roasted Tales today to receive a new box of 100% single-origin coffee with a side of augmented reality stories each month.
Interested in learning more about organic coffee qualifications? Take a look at the USDA Organic website for more information.