The meaning of “organic”
Many factors are taken into consideration when coffee is considered for “organic” certification. For example, the coffee farm’s fertilizer must be 100% organic. Some organic fertilizer options include chicken manure, coffee pulp, bocachi and general compost. If inorganic fertilizers such as synthetic nitrogen, phosphate, and potash are used, then the crop grown cannot be certified organic.
In the US, organic coffee crops are overseen by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). USDA agents travel to coffee production sites to certify them as organic according to national standards. Although these standards discourage the use of chemicals on cropland within three years preceding the harvest in question, exemptions can be made. This means that not all USDA certified organic products are necessarily free of chemical residues.
Meanwhile, the Organic Food Production Act of 1990 (OFPA) focuses on the production of coffee after the harvest. OFPA regulates the use of chemicals on the product and how the coffee beans are handled throughout the production process. Regulations are not necessarily stringent; the former vice-chair of the U.S. National Organic Standards Board has stated that “Organic labels are not statements regarding the healthiness, nutritional value, or overall safety of consuming such products” (Liu 333).
According to the center for Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education in Costa Rica (CATIE), 75% of the world’s organic coffee comes from Latin America. The world’s primary producer and exporter of organic coffee is Mexico. Brazil, Colombia and Honduras are also major coffee producers.
Organic coffee production is generally on the rise in Latin America. As of 2010, about 10% of one-time organic growers had given in to conventional production due to price competition. However, this trend is reversing as consumers increasingly demand organic goods and investors step in to supply loans with manageable interest rates.
To be sold as organic in the U.S., imported coffee must gain organic certification. Among other standards, this includes meeting the following requirements:
The coffee is grown on land that wasn’t exposed to synthetic pesticides or other prohibited substances for 3 years prior.
A sufficient buffer exists between the organic coffee and the closest conventional crop.
A sustainable crop rotation plan is in place to prevent erosion, the depletion of soil nutrients, and to naturally control for pests.