Organic food is definitely the healthiest, most nutritious alternative when choosing what to eat. Organically produced food is not only good for our own body, it is also great for the environment and the future sustainability of soil fertility for future generations.
Organically grown agriculture production has come a long way in recent years, and government agencies all over the world, are doing all they can to regulate, label and standardize rules and laws for these products. This is based on the scientific proof that organic food offers advantages through a whole spectrum of healthy choices for humans and the world in general. Another consideration is an ever growing demand which supply can't yet cover.
For the vast majority of human history, agriculture can be described as "organic"; only during the 20th century was a large supply of new synthetic chemicals introduced to the food supply. The organic farming movement arose in the 1940s in response to the industrialization of agriculture known as the Green Revolution.
The term “organic” refers to the way agricultural products are grown and processed. Specific requirements must be met and maintained in order for products to be labeled as "organic".
Requirements for organic certification vary from country to country, and generally involve a set of production standards for growing, storage, processing, packaging and shipping that include:
- Avoidance of synthetic chemical inputs not on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (e.g. fertilizer, pesticides, antibiotics, food additives, etc), genetically modified organisms, irradiation, and the use of biosolids.
- Use of farmland that has been free from prohibited synthetic chemicals for a number of years (often, three or more).
- Maintaining strict physical separation of organic products from non-certified products.
- Undergoing periodic on-site inspections.
- Organic crops must be grown in safe soil, have no modifications and must remain separate from conventional products. Farmers are not allowed to use synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes (GMOs), petroleum-based fertilizers and sewage sludge-based fertilizers.
- Organic livestock must have access to the outdoors and be given organic feed. They may not be given antibiotics, growth hormones, or any animal-by-products.
Despite methodological challenges, a substantial body of research comparing environmental impacts of organic and conventional farming systems/practices has been documented during the past 30 years. With a few exceptions, studies point to environmental advantages for organic farming practices with respect to a) maintaining or building soil quality, b) lessening ground and surface water contamination, c) reducing greenhouse gas emissions, d) encouraging biodiversity, e) conserving water and energy resources, and, f) recycling waste. Some negative reports and challenges remain for organic production in terms of specific practices and types of environmental impacts.
Should you purchase organic foods?
This is a question that comes in many versions and contexts: Is organic food more nutritious? Is organic food better for my children? Is organic "worth it?" Does organic farming help the environment? Have less impact on global warming? Do my purchases help support small and local farms? Are organic animals treated more humanely? Consumers are being asked to make food choices in terms of not only health and money issues, but in terms of environmental and social values as well. The task of food shopping has become fraught with conflicting information, frustration and, often, outright cynicism. Being an educated consumer has never been more challenging.
We are beginning to understand the economic, social and environmental impacts of food choices in the context of the whole food chain – from farm production and harvesting, to storing and transporting; to processing and packaging; to food preparation; and waste disposal. For some consumers food choices rest on individual health issues, e.g. sensitivity to specific pesticide residues or food additives, for which organic production methods may apply. Who knew that eating could present such a large and complicated puzzle, a puzzle for which the number and shape of the puzzle pieces constantly change as we learn more?
Other articles in this series:
- Food world
- Acid/Alkaline foods
- Top 10 Reasons to Support Organic in the 21st Century; Organic.org.
- U.S. Organic Farming; USDA.
- European organic farming; The European Comission.
- Understanding Organic Food Labels, Benefits, and Claims; HelpGuide.org.
- Should I purchase organic foods?; National agricultural library.
- Ecological Knowledge: Foundation for Sustainable Organic Agriculture; Drinkwater, Laurie E.
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