Benefits of Organic Agriculture — VS Conventional Methods

Over the past decade the increasing awareness of quality food products has created a massive global demand for organic foods. In order to meet this demand, each facet of the current food system is radically adjusting with farmers producing more organic foods, grocery stores creating designated organic sections, and specialty restaurants serving only certified products. However, while most people are familiar with the consumer end of organic produce, the majority of people remain unaware of the agricultural components.

Technically speaking organic is a term that, while varying slightly in different countries, generally refers to foods that are either 100% organic, or made up of 95% organic ingredients. This means that the word has a legal definition and in order for a food product to be considered organic, it must have been cultivated on a farm that follows strict preset guidelines. This specific criteria puts certified organic products in their own unique category, unlike many other food claims such as “natural” or “healthy” which are much more ambiguous and lack strict regulation.

The rules that organic farms must comply are set forth by the United States Department of Agriculture Organic Program, and are very similar in most developed countries. This program prohibits the use irradiation -which is the application of radiation to aid in preservation and transportation of some foods, as well as the use of genetically engineered products (GMOs), and the application of human waste (sewage sludge) as fertilizer. Certified farms are also only allowed to apply approved materials to their fields and crops; this means that synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are banned, although there are some naturally derived sprays that are allowed. The USDA also requires a 3-year period of following these guidelines before the products gain their official organic status, once certification is received, advisors conduct random checks on farms to ensure continued compliance. For meat to be labeled organic there are separate guidelines, which require livestock to be raised in an environment that supports their natural behavior, be fed 100% organic feed, and not be administered any growth hormones or antibiotics.

The previous explanation is the more technical side of organic farming, however there is also the more holistic environmental and human health aspect of organic food cultivation. To put it simply, organic agriculture is meant to preserve and support natural resources, biodiversity, and animal welfare. For example, conventional agriculture relies heavily on the use of chemical sprays to kill insects and weeds, as well as applying fertilizer. These sprays can have negative impacts on local wildlife and insects, as well as leaching into and polluting water systems. On the other hand, organic farmers rely almost exclusively on crop cycling and animal manure as fertilizer, which promotes a natural cycling of nutrients creating a more sustainable system as well as improving soil health.

Another issue that many people have with conventional agriculture is the use of GMO crops such as corn that have been genetically engineered to resist primarily used herbicides. This means that farmers are able to apply massive quantities of plant killing chemicals to their fields without having to worry about the corn being killed, this can result in food products being harvested with high levels of chemical residue on them.

Most importantly, organic agriculture, although not always perfect, promotes the idea that we should be producing food in a way that ensures the long-term health and wellbeing of our natural resources, and does so in a way that allows for the sustainable cultivation of healthy foods for centuries to come. Unfortunately at this point, many companies have found ways to exploit USDA’s organic criteria allowing them to produce foods bearing the certified organic emblem that have not been produced in an environmentally sustainable way. At the same time, there are many farms that lack the logistical and financial requirements to become certified, but may be cultivating sustainable high quality foods. For instance, compare an “organic” tomato grown on a large scale farm in Mexico that is shipped thousands of miles, with a non-certified tomato that was grown up the street by a small acreage farmer; which one is truly promoting human and environmental well being? It is for this reason that the certified organic sticker should be taken into account when selecting food products, but not necessarily viewed as the sole indicator of a products true quality.

Lissie Flowers

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *