We are regularly told how important it is to eat organically, but do we really know why? We are told it’s not just better for our bodies, but for the planet as well.
Organic Is Better For The Planet
A recent study showed that 56% of Americans don’t know what organically grown means and so are reluctant to pay what seems like more money for organically grown produce.
At the core of organic farming is the idea of developing a sustainable agriculture. Farms aren’t factories — they are biological systems that are impacted by weather and ecology. The “industrial model” of farming has resulted in the degradation of quality of the soil, water and contributed to the loss of biodiversity through monoculture production. The industrial model has led to practices that are heavy on fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and irrigation.
While a farm may practice sustainable farming techniques it doesn’t mean that they necessarily provide organic food. It is important to remember that fruit and vegetables are either organically grown or they aren’t. There is no middle ground here.
Is It Organic?
If a food is organically grown, the store selling it will let consumers know. However there is another way to tell. We’re all familiar with the little stickers that are on our fresh fruits and vegetables. That little sticker has the PLU (product look-up code) printed on it. If a vegetable or fruit is grown organically the code begins with the number 9 which is an easy way to tell a product is organic if signage or packaging doesn’t.
A food grown organically has to adhere to very strict principles established by the Federal government. The 1990 Organic Foods Production Act and the USDA organic standards established in 2002 govern the rules which regulate the production of organic foods.
It means that the farmer can verify that the food was produced under those standards. It also means that the grower and his farm (and records) has been inspected by an individual that works for a state agency or private agency that is accredited by the USDA to undertake these inspections. It also means that the farmer has paid (sometimes heavily) for the ability to deliver organic produce to the marketplace.
The long list of rules includes: no synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or fertilizers. No genetically modified foods or seeds. Produce may not be treated with irradiation and no fertilizers made from sewage sludge are allowed. Nor can the farm use any of those methods in the 3 years prior to certification.
Is Organic Food Better For You?
This is one area where there seems to be some disagreement. Part of that disagreement comes from the USDA itself which finds it essentially serving two masters: conventional farmers and organic farmers.
Agribusiness will tell you that organic food isn’t better for you. They claim that organic farming is unreliable, threatens food security and is an environmental disaster, dangerous to wildlife and potentially damaging to the health of the consumer.
Organic farms are just as profitable as conventional farms. They produce a slightly smaller yield but do not endanger supply. They use less energy than conventional farms and they leave the soil and water healthier because pesticides and fertilizers are not entering the water system.
They don’t address the potential cumulative effects of eating pesticides and herbicides for years. They just don’t know what the long term impact is – so why risk it?
The bottom line is that organic produce is certainly better for the planet. Considering that we’re a part of that planetary ecosystem, in my way of thinking it follows that it is better.
About The Author: Dawn is a seasoned communications professional with twenty-five years’ experience with private enterprise, non-profits and public corporations. She’s worked with a variety of diverse groups including businesses, community organizations, government agencies, media and the general public to exchange information and develop strategic plans promoting community outreach and linkages.
She originally hails from the Midwest but now has her home in San Francisco, CA the home of garlic fries, Anchor Steam Beer, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Summer of Love.
The grown organically seal on produce tells you that this grower has jumped through a lot of hoops to bring this product to you in that form.