Nature's Path Foods - Organic Glossary

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Organics and Regulations

Conventional agriculture: Often used to describe non-organic agriculture. Many organic supporters feel this is an inaccurate description because organic was used long before chemically based agriculture, therefore many feel that organic is the original or “conventional” agriculture. Throughout Nature’s Path WebPages we describe non-organic agriculture as “non-organic” for clarity.

Organic Integrity: Refers to protection and treatment of a system or product according to organic principles.

Pesticide: Technically refers to toxins used to kill or repel pests. It is also often used as a catch phrase for all pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides.

Herbicide: Refers to toxins used to kill or stunt weeds.

Fungicide: Refers to toxins used to kill or stunt fungi (molds).

Micro-organisms (in soil): Refers to micro-sized organisms that live in the top layer of soil. These organisms break down dead plant materials and animal droppings and make these materials available to growing plants as nutrients. See Soil Organisms for full description of micro organisms in the soil.

Selective Breeding: Is when a plant or animal is selected for certain qualities such as colour, taste, size, consistency etc, and used to breed with other similarly selected plants or animals of the same or similar species with the objective of producing more of the selected traits in the offspring. This offspring is then again selected and bred using the same method. After several generations of selective breeding, significant results have been obtained. for example, before selective breeding, potatoes were originally just little swellings on roots, and cows originally produced a few cups of milk a day, now after selective breeding, dairy cows can produce 40-80 liters of milk per day.

GMO or GE: GMO is an acronym for Genetically Modified Organisms, and GE is an acronym for Genetically Engineered. Both have the same meaning: In laymans terms, it means that the genetic code in the DNA of an organism has been altered by either inserting, removing, damaging or shifting the natural gene sequences and composition, through means other than cross breeding, cross pollination, fermentation, hybridization, in vitro fertilization or tissue culture. For more, follow this link to USDA National Organic Program definition. Look under Excluded Methods.

Adventitious: Is a term the bio-tech industries have used to describe the uncontrollable contamination of non GMO crops with GMOs. Adventitious implies accidental, and spontaneous, and we are left with the impression this somehow should soften the liability for the contamination. If you, like many organic supporters prefer to call a spade a spade, then “adventitious” equals “contamination”.

Inbred: Refers to breeding within the same family, usually done to preserve and enhance certain qualities. Usually results in lowered vigour. Inbreeding is a step used to achieve Hybrids.

Hybrid: Is when a plant is the offspring of two or more inbred parents of different subspecies or species. A first-generation hybrid is more vigorous than either of its purebred parents, but a second generation hybrid will not produce similar qualities in it’s offspring, and therefore seeds from hybrid plants cannot be used to grow more of the same plant. For instance some of the corn grown in North America is the hybrid of two different inbred lines, or the double-cross hybrid of four inbred lines.

Co-mingling: Is when non-organic commodities or ingredients are accidentally mingled with organic commodities or ingredients. Organic inspectors are trained to detect systems that are unable to maintain this organic integrity, and these shortcomings are required to be addressed prior to organic certification being issued.

Organic Regulation: Is a law concerning organic production and handling, either provincial, state, or national. Canada does not yet have a National organic regulation, but the US does (Organic Food Production Act of 1990). BC and Quebec Provinces have their own organic regulations.

Organic Standard: Is a written organic standard that details organic production and handling procedures, methods, and allowable and non-allowable substances used. There are many standards, some stand alone, and some are referenced in organic regulations (link to). Canada currently has a voluntary standard issued by Canadian General Standards Board The US has the National Organic Program, based on the OFPA of 1990)

Accredited Certification Agency: Is a certification agency that is accredited by a provincial, state or national certification program to be competent and sanctioned to conduct reviews, inspections, and issue or deny organic certification to applicant producers, processors or handlers.

Independent Organic Inspector: Is an individual that is qualified to conduct organic inspections or verifications for an accredited certification agency. This entails annually and physically visiting farms, processors and handlers to verify that they use acceptable systems and have adequate controls in place to ensure the organic integrity of the certified organic products they produce, process or handle. The Independent part means that the inspector does not have financial or other interests with the party inspected. In addition independent can also mean that the inspector does work for several Accredited Certification Agencies as an independent contractor.

Audit Trail: Is the documentation required for a certified entity to keep accessible for inspection. This documentation can be hard copy or electronic (with backup), but needs to document every step taken to preserve the organic integrity of a product or process. Examples would be (but not limited to): Fields, fertilizer, tillage, planting, harvest records etc. Receipts for all purchases of seed, amendments, inoculants etc. Logs of storage, cleaning, sanitation, packaging, processing, recipes, handling, etc. And finally affidavits and certificates proving the organic integrity of ingredients bought from others.

Annual inspection: Each year each applicant for organic certification is required to be inspected if they are certified under the NOP, COABC, or CAAQ standards.

Staged Recall: This is a planned “mock” recall undertaken usually by processors to ensure that the procedure for recall of a product is functioning. Product is not actually recalled in this event, but all the prerequisite functions for a recall of a specific product are checked to see that they exist. If a contamination that contains a risk to human health, of a product or one of it’s ingredients becomes known, a full and actual recall must be possible to conduct.

HACCP: A program to ensure proper Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points are identified and used to minimize risk. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and the US Food and Drug Administration monitors HACCP compliance. HACCP can be used as a tool to improve systems, or an entity can be HACCP recognized. Nature’s Path uses the HACCP system and is working towards HACCP recognition.

Kosher: Kosher is the Hebrew word meaning fit or proper, designating foods whose ingredients and manufacturing procedures comply with Jewish dietary laws. Many of Nature’s Path products are Kosher certified. There are many kinds of Kosher. For a full description go to:

Halal: In Islam, Halal is an Arabic term meaning “lawful or permissible” and not only encompasses food and drink, but all matters of daily life.

Fair Trade: It stands for fairness and global social responsibility in international trade. In North America some FairTrade certified products are: coffee, tea, chocolate, sugar and bananas. When these products are not FairTrade certified it does not automatically mean that slavery or child labour was used in it’s production, but the FairTrade certificate sets a standard for fair labour practices. Nature’s Path buys a lot of FairTrade certified product, but not all at this point. We listen to our customers and what they want. We do not buy from unethical suppliers.

fairDeal: Is an initiative created by Canadian Farmer Direct Cooperative farmers to provide the consumer with properly grown and fairly traded food products. Through the fairDeal, Farmer Direct and affiliated coops address the rising consumer knowledge of food ethics, food safety and increasing food quality expectations.

Community supported agriculture (CSA): Is where a group of people buy seasonal shares of a farmer's crops, in essence, they have a stake in the farm. The farmers fresh fruits and vegetables are normally delivered each week to a location where each "buying group" then further divides the food into individual shares. CSA's may support organic farming, permaculture or biodynamic farming methods of sustainable agriculture.

NOP: National Organic Program of the USDA.

NOSB: National Organic Standards Board (advises NOP and USDA)

USDA: United States Department of Agriculture.

FDA: Food and Drug Administration (US).

GRAS: Generally Recognized As Safe.


Cover-crop: A crop that is planted not for its food or feed value, but to cover the soil to prevent soil erosion and also to feed the micro-organisms in the soil when turning the cover crop back into the soil (disc or plow), thereby providing natural nutrients for future plants grown on that soil.

Companion crop: Plants grown in close proximity to each other, that offer benefits to the other, such as garlic repelling pests when inter-planted with garden vegetables, or a cereal grain grown with a legume (peas), both to help provide coverage to prevent weeds from competing, the legume providing nitrogen through it’s root nodules, and the cereal grain helping the legume grow taller by providing vertical strength. Other benefits include better pest resistance by providing a more natural blend of plants rather than mono crops (only one type of plant in a large area that encourages pest development against that one crop).

No-till farming: A form of farming where tillage (plowing, harrowing, disking and cultivation) is avoided as much as possible. This benefits the soil organisms in that the soil is not disturbed. One of the serious drawbacks is that weed-control is typically managed 100% by applying herbicides. In other words instead of tilling the land to prepare a seed bed, the no-till farmer sprays the stubble from last years crop and plants straight on this sprayed soil. Organic farming is only recently experimenting with developing systems of knocking down last year’s stubble, or a cover-crop and seeding straight into this flattened cover. This is an exciting new frontier that if successful will allow organic farmers to till less thereby disturbing the micro-organisms in the soil less, and also applying no-till methods. Organic farmers cannot spray herbicides.

Direct seeding: Refers to seeding into soil that still has last year’s crop or stubble on it, without preparing a seedbed through tillage. Also see no-till farming.

Super Weed: Is a weed that has had the opportunity to selectively breed itself in response to multigenerational exposure to similar herbicides. This natural selective breeding has resulted in the weed developing significant resistance or immunity to the herbicide. When this herbicide is applied to kill or stunt this “super weed”, it is no longer effective. Super weeds are a problem for chemical farmers. For organic farmers super weeds and regular weeds present the same challenge and the tool of the organic farmer to combat weeds are equally effective against both (cultivation, flame weeding, cover crops, crop rotations, late seeding, mulching, etc.)

Compost: Is the process of plant and animal matter decaying or breaking down into simpler elements such as humus and nutrients. This breaking down process is accomplished by micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, arthropods and earthworms. This micro-sized community is also capable of breaking down many toxins into simpler and harmless forms. Without these micro-organisms, we would not have soil or plants. Composting is generally the word used to describe the human activity of gathering plant waste, food waste, manure, woodchips or shavings, and sometimes fish or animal wastes into piles and encourage micro-organisms' activity to speed up the process of decomposition. Compost piles are typically turned either by pitchfork (manually) or with equipment (tractor with front end loader or special compost turning equipment). This turning brings oxygen into the process and mixes it up, and this seems to speed up the decomposition process. If turned regularly and kept in a sunny spot all waste except hard nuts, branches or large wood chips can be broken down into finished compost in 3 months or less. This finished compost looks and smells like soil and is teeming full of nutrients that plants need to grow healthy and strong. Organic gardeners use lots of compost and refer to it as their “black gold”. Check this link out for select composting resources, or check your city’s composting programs:

Compost tea: This is becoming well known as an effective way of getting the benefits of both the nutrients and the inoculation effect of the compost (along with it’s myriad life-forms) into the soil where it is needed to make plants grow. Basically, it is like brewing tea with a teabag, only done on a larger scale using well broken down compost or vermin-compost instead of tea. This mixture is “brewed” by bubbling air into a barrel or tank and after a few hours, the micro-organisms in the compost have multiplied hundreds of times, then the “tea” is strained and applied to growing plants, feeding both their leaves and the soil. Tremendous success has been experienced using this method and significant disease and pest resistance has been seen as the plants become stronger and healthier. Follow these links below for more in-depth information on compost tea brewers:

Photosynthesis: Is the process in green plants by which carbohydrates are formed from carbon dioxide and water using light as an energy source. In simpler language this means that plants use and need light to grow.

Organic Matter: In soil, organic matter consists of plant and animal material that is in the process of decomposing.

Tilth: Tilth Refers to the health of the soil, and healthy soil is full of bugs, fungus, bacteria, air space, and humus.

Humus: Is fully decomposed organic matter. This humus is important for soil structure because it holds individual mineral particles together in clusters. Ideal soil has a granular, crumbly structure that allows water to drain through it, and allows oxygen and carbon dioxide to move freely between spaces within the soil and the air above.

Mulching: Is covering the soil with some kind of cover that improves both humus and tilth. Materials used for mulch could be straw, hay, woodchips, recycled paper (watch out for the coloured inks that may contain heavy metals), or plastic. A new form of mulch looks like plastic, but is made from corn or wheat starch, and is completely compostable. That means that it is broken down by the soil micro organisms. (Warning! Some compostable films are made from Genetically engineered soy) This is different than plastic that disintegrates into little bits, but pollutes the soil with plastic components. For more information on compostable bio-films: You can increase the organic matter in your garden by adding compost or applying mulch.

Soil Organisms

Inoculants: Is when a life-form is introduced into a new environment to either boost the levels of activity of that life-form, or to get it to start living there. For instance if soil is deficient in certain microbial life-forms, they can be added through compost or compost tea. Another example is when legumes (peas) are planted the seed companies usually recommend adding an inoculant powder to the seed prior to planting. The inoculant powder is teeming with a live soil bacterium called Rhizobium that lives in harmony with these plants by incorporating itself within special nodules on the plant's roots. This bacterium has a symbiotic relationship with the legume plants and rhizobium must be present on the roots of the legume in order for the plant to be able to make nitrogen with it’s nodules which it feeds on. There is always some rhizobium naturally in the soil, but this practice of inoculating the legume seeds when planting assures that there is a lot there at the right place.

Nematodes: Microscopic worm-like organisms, usually living in soil; some are parasites of plants or animals. Nematodes root feeding, fungal and bacterial feeding, or larger ones are predators on other nematodes and protozoa.

Bacteria: Microscopic single cell organisms. Most do not need light to live.

Fungi: Fungi also do not need light to live. Forms long chainlike cells called hyphae and sometimes form fruiting bodies such as mold or mushrooms that spread spores. Fungi decompose dead organic matter and can form associations with plant roots who supply them with energy.

Protozoa: Microscopic single cell animals like amoebas, flagellates and ciliates.

Arthropods: Joint legged invertebrate animals such as spiders, sow bugs, arachnids, crustaceans, and insects.

Earthworms: Soft slimy invertebrates. Earthworms are a hermaphrodite which means that they are both male and female in one body. They decompose dead organic matter and snack on bacteria and fungi.

Agricultural Practices and Equipment

Rod weeding: Type of tilling equipment that uproots young shoots of weeds. Functions with a rod turning opposite to the direction of travel as it is pulled horizontally through the soil a few inches below the surface.

Early/late seeding: Is the practice of organic farmers to adjust the time of seeding to achieve a balance between extended growing seasons, and weed control.

Air Seeder: Is a type of equipment used to seed grains, peas, and oilseeds.

Row crop: A crop that is seeded in rows as opposed to broadcast.

Broadcast: A crop that is seeded by spreading seed without any pattern. The oldest method of seeding done by throwing seed on the ground by hand. Modern equipment is now used to broadcast seed such as the centrifugal spreader.

Windrow: Is when a crop like a grain or legume crop is harvested by being cut and each swath (width of cut) is funneled together into a neat row for air drying, and for easy pickup by later equipment.

Swath: Is the width of equipment used to cut crops at harvest.

Combine: Is a piece of equipment used for harvesting grains, oilseeds, and legumes that both cuts, and threshes the crop in one go.

Threshing: Is the process of separating the grain or seed from the rest of the plant that it grew on. Separating the grain from the chaff.

Disc: Is a piece of equipment that is pulled behind a tractor to cut into the soil and break up roots and sod. It functions by (dinner plate like) sharp steel disc’s being placed on an angle and pulled through the soil.

Cultivator: Fulfills the same function as a disc, but is usually not as heavy duty, and more suited for soil with fewer roots.

Plow: Fulfills the same function as a disc, but completely cuts a furrow and turns it over so that the sod is no longer visible and the field shows only soil after plowing. Some farmers prefer this method, but it is becoming less popular than in the past.

Harrow: Is used after discing or plowing to further break up chunks of sod and roots, and also to kill any weed growth trying to re-grow. It also smoothes out the surface of the fields and prepares for planting.

Post Harvest Handling

Seed Cleaner: Is an operation that cleans the dirt, chaff and weed-seeds out of grains, oilseeds or beans.

Auger conveyance: Is a big screw inside a pipe that when turned is used to transport grains and seeds between trucks and storage bins and from one piece of seed cleaning equipment to another.

Pneumatic conveyance: Is a pipe system charged with negative air pressure (vacuum) that sucks grains, seeds or other ingredients through it to transport it to another location.

Elevator Leg / bucket elevator: Is a series of cups, or buckets usually attached to a belt or chain that goes up and around an axel and back down again, inside a shaft. Is used for transporting grains or flour up high and from there is distributed by gravity through pipes controlled with valves. This is a typical way of moving product around a seed cleaning plant or elevator.

Pit unloading: Is a hole in the floor covered with a steel grate at elevators and mills where the trucks drive over and stop to unload their load by opening a trap door on their trucks. The grain or seed flows through the grate and into a large funnel that then transports the grain or seed by pneumatic, auger, or conveyor belt conveyance

Gravity table: Seed cleaning equipment used to separate similar-sized seeds on the basis of their weight or density. For example removing light immature or empty seeds that are the same size as mature seeds. The deck or bed of the machine is perforated or made of cloth to allow air to be forced through it from below. In addition, the bed is tilted and oscillates back and forth. Since light material will remain in the air longer while denser material will tend to remain in contact with the bed, the denser material actually “walks” to the upper side of the tilted bed as it oscillates while the lighter material “floats” to the lower side. The discharge area is divided into a number of separations to obtain precise and uniform grading.

Indent: Seed cleaning equipment used to remove weed seeds or broken seeds. Separates sizes by length or shape. Small indents or cups are present on a cylinder or a disk that will allow seeds of a certain size to enter, but larger or longer seeds are rejected.

Spiral: Seed cleaning equipment used to remove flat or irregularly shaped materials from spherical (round) seeds. For example, it can remove broken seeds from soybeans, or oilseeds like canola. The seeds are simply allowed to travel down a spiral inner path. Spherical seeds will gain speed and fly off the inner spiral into an outer spiral, while the other objects slide down the inner spiral and out a separate discharge.

Test weight: Is the weight of grains compared to a volume measure such as a bushel. The heavier a grain is in the same volume measure (bushel), the higher quality it is generally. Farmers get paid premiums for high test weights.

Bushel: Is the size of approximately ½ a barrel or 1.25 cubic feet. There is approximately 60 pounds of wheat in a bushel.

Brix value: Is a measure of soluble solids and sugar content in produce or plant juices. Can be measured using a refractometer. Dr. Arden Andersen suggests that using a refractometer to test food gives valuable information about quality. This is how it works: when the brix is low, the taste is poor, and the insects come. When the brix is high, the taste is superb and the insects seem to busy themselves elsewhere. The farmer's job is simply to re-mineralize and fertilize in such a way that the plants, properly fed, can develop higher brix.