Non-Synthetic Food Production
While anything that relates to living matter could accurately be called “organic,” for this purpose, we are referring to the definition of the term as it relates to the purity and production of food and agricultural goods. Products that are produced without synthetic additives, chemical fertilizers, industrial solvents, or handling techniques like irradiation can be certified as organic.
An Ancient Practice Enters the Modern Era
Organic growing techniques are nothing new. In fact, organic agriculture was the norm for the whole of human history until the relatively recent practice of farming with artificial fertilizers, which were first developed in the 1800s. It wasn’t until the 1940s that industrial farming methods became widespread enough to inspire an organic farming movement in response. From 2002 to 2011, the global organic food industry grew 170%, becoming a $63 billion industry.
In many countries, the government regulates the use of the term “organic” for food products. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) distinguishes between three levels of organic products. Products that are 100% organic can be labeled as such with the USDA seal. Products that are 95% organic may be labeled as “organic” along with the USDA seal. Products that are a minimum of 70% organic can be labeled “made with organic ingredients”, but cannot use the USDA seal.
The criteria for an organic rating relates to a list of banned synthetic substances that may not be used during growing, production, or distribution, as well as the structure of the farm itself and other farming practices.
Organic Farming and the Environment
In addition to producing a bounty of healthily chemical-free produce, organic farming also benefits the environment in many important ways. Groundwater, soil, and wildlife are all protected from pollution via chemicals, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Instead, soil is naturally fertilized with traditional farming methods such as crop rotation and minimum tillage.
Why Organic Food Costs More
There is a very small amount of organic cropland and pasture. In 2008, only 0.6% of all U.S. farmland was certified organic. Additionally, organic farms tend to have lower yields than conventional farms, and the higher cost of running these farms is often passed on to consumers.