Organic Sense

The “Natural” Challenge to Organic

by George L. Siemon, Organic Valley CEO  on December 07, 2009

The organic food movement is always full of challenges. For me as a CEO, I face an endless set of challenges while building and running an organic business that every year is unique. Now it seems, in the midst of our success, that organic is having an identity crisis. We hear a lot of discussion about organic being taken over by corporations or that organic does not mean GMO-free (it can’t be done) or that the USDA National Organic Program is inadequate or whatever else may make the headlines. This criticism might be normal growing pains, but the worst part is that while we debate, the marketers of natural competitive products (often pretending to be organic) are wooing our citizen-partners!

The organic community needs to break out of the endless cycle of USDA organic standard debate and watchdog cries against corporate take over. We need to pour our efforts into advocating for an organic and natural lifestyle that supports organic agriculture. Natural is a great word if it is used as it was in the beginning years of the organic foods movement. The term “natural” has always meant minimally processed with minimal additives, but it was used as an adjective to organic—not as a stand alone food product. The real goal is to advocate for organic natural foods.

Really though, “natural” is about our relationship to nature and is a great guide to use in our lifestyle choices. The concept of natural laws has been an inspiring perspective and a constant reference in my life, so it is hard to see the word “natural” reduced to only mean “no additives.” Natural is too rich of a word to be used against organic food. Of course, what is more natural in our relationship to nature than supporting organic food?

I’m including an essay about the evolving relationship between organic and natural. The author is our “shero” and Chief Marketing Executive, Theresa Marquez. Theresa is a true pioneer in the organic food movement and offers some great insights on this topic. Products with misleading natural and “made with organic ingredients” labels combined with organic ingredients disappearing from familiar products are causing confusion. Informing our citizen partners on the differences between organic and natural is now a critical endeavor for those of us who love organic.

The dedication of organic manufacturers for years has been one of continual improvement with more and more organic ingredients being added.  Competitive pressure to be as organic as possible was working well, given the high demand for 100% organic. We now see that some in the food industry are backsliding and playing off of consumer confusion. While it may be comfortable to attack these food manufacturers, it is not the long term answer. The answer has to be educating consumers to not be fooled by confusing label claims and that certified organic is worthy of our trust.

So, the real subject is—how can we educate our population to the depth of issues surrounding foods and the negative impacts of agriculture on our environment, our society and human health? The organic community is woefully underfunded to effectively counter the well-funded disparagements from the chemical industry. The education has to be about reaching for the positive choices and learning to be intelligent about the confusing messages in the food marketing world. I really feel the time has come to reach out to all members of the organic community to help fund these needed education efforts. I encourage you to check out The Organic Center’s impressive efforts to line up the science behind organic. Also, check out the Organic Trade Association, working to keep the organic standards strong.  The time has come for all individuals to pledge support to organic in as many ways as they can—with their purchases, with monetary donations and perhaps the most important activity is with their conversations!  Telling friends and family about organic is still the most powerful educational tool.

Sharing my thoughts with Organic Sense is reminding me how much there is to do. How do we build a movement that really is about a new Natural lifestyle where we are learning together?  Organic food is a leading edge to bring personal health and social change into our daily lives. We are a movement yet we are a society of individuals who no longer know how to act as a community or a movement despite that we are part of one. I hope sharing my thoughts can help contribute in a small way to nurture our movement and our organic community.

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George from from La Farge, WI on December 28, 2009 at 09:15:54 AM

Thanks for the compliment. I was raised in the city and was lucky enough to experience life on a farm as a youth which led to my life as a farmer. Starting farming is both very difficult and yet still attainable with the right approach, good management and hard work. One piece of advice is to not try too many new things at once and stick to tried and true methods before you risk your financial wellbeing with experiments. The best is to work for a highly regarded farmer to learn and that will give you time to decide on the best approach for your farming life. No matter how passionate you are it is crucial to realize farming is still a form of business and a well run business is one that enables the biggest dreams to become reality. The local food movement is thriving and presenting opportunity for start ups but we need to make sure the endeavors are sustainable. It takes years to see the fruits of starting a farm but it is so rewarding to see the maturation of a dream and to feel the support of the people who eat your food! Most importantly enjoy working with nature, ask for advice, learn from your experiences and have fun!!

Best George
Paul from on December 13, 2009 at 10:35:46 AM
In your essay, you might want consider comparing milk collected from captured wild bison on free range, to that of the dairy cattle eating today's grains, both of which have been genetically-engineered through selectively-breeding and the latter grown using crop rotation vs manufactured fertilizers and pesticides.
John from from Mukilteo, WA on December 11, 2009 at 09:30:36 PM
Mr Siemon you inspire me. I am seriously considering starting a small organc operation. I do not have much start up, but i have alot of strive and determination. My whole heart and soul will go into this. Can you share with me one piece of advise to get me started.
Customer Service from from La Farge, WI on December 11, 2009 at 02:16:55 PM
Hello Mary, thanks for the Question!

If you are wondering why your Organic Valley organic milk lasts longer than you experienced with another brand, it's likely that you are buying Organic Valley Ultra Pasteurized milk. There is nothing specific to organic milk that makes it last longer than conventional milk, it's the type of pasteurization process employed in conjunction with the use of high-quality packaging that allows you to enjoy extended milk freshness. With very few exceptions, all milk you buy at the retail store is required by law to be pasteurized.

At Organic Valley we use two types of processes to pasteurize our milk. The first is High Temperature Short Time (HTST), which heats milk to at least 165 degrees fahrenheit for 15 seconds. HTST milk typically has a shelf life of 16 - 21 days from the date it was packaged. The HTST process is the most widely used pasteurization process in the United States for both conventional and organic milk.

The second type of pasteurization process we use is called Ultra Pasteurization (UP). The UP process is sometimes referred to as Ultra High Temperature (UHT) as well. The UP pasteurization process heats milk to 280 degrees fahrenheit for up to two seconds. The higher temperature used in the UP process eliminates a larger percentage of bacteria than HTST, which, when coupled with our high-quality packaging, allows the milk to last up to 63 days from the date on which the milk was packaged. Between HTST and UP, the UP process is the most recently developed and adopted. The UP process is currently the dominant milk pasteurization method in Europe and is steadily gaining popularity here in America.

All Organic Valley milks in the gallon container are pasteurized using the HTST process, but milks in the half gallon and quart containers may be produced with either the HTST or UP process. If you and your family prefer the longer shelf life afforded by the UP process, be sure to look closely at the package to see if it is labeled "Ultra Pasteurized" instead of simply "Pasteurized". The "Ultra Pasteurized" or "Pasteurized" information is normally printed on the front of the Organic Valley container near the bottom and the top.

Best Regards,
The Organic Valley Family of Farms
mary from from Rockford Il on December 8, 2009 at 10:00:08 AM
I heard one day that organic milk lasts a lot longer. As my husband and I are not big milk drinkers, our milk always went to waste. Although we pay more we use what we buy now, and it is very good milk. What makes it last so long?
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