Organic Farming (© val’sphotos)
Right now, the phrase “organic farming” is kind of a buzz word that calls to mind a lot of positive images. Cleaner food, a healthier environment and better food farming practices are just a few of the images that come to mind when thinking about organic farming.
This is what many of think when we see the organic labels on food, but how many of us actually know what goes into organic farming and what is classified as organic farming? I would like to explore this issue so that more of us understand how food becomes classified as organic, which will then allow you to make more informed choices when you are at the grocery store.We can begin to define organic farming by saying that it is food that is grown and processed without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. However, farmers may still use pesticides that are derived from nature, otherwise known as biological pesticides. The process of growing organic food is highly regulated, and farmers must be certified by a USDA-accredited agency to sell, label, or represent their products as organic. Most organic farmers follow sets of similar guidelines:
Preserve natural resources and biodiversity
Support animal health and welfare
Provide access to the outdoors so that animals can exercise their natural behaviors
Only use approved materials
Do not use genetically modified ingredients
Receive annual onsite inspections
Separate organic food from non-organic food
Farmers who follow the USDA guidelines for organic farming do receive monetary benefits for helping to preserve the environment, and consumers benefit by knowing that the food they are consuming is highly regulated, which presumably means that it is safer to consume.
However, we need to push the USDA to be a bit more transparent in the way that they handle organic farming. Although the farmers are being paid more for their organic products, they are not able to produce as much food. This means that some farmers may actually be earning less money by going organic. This is problematic for the smaller farmers that may only have one or two tractors since it is already difficult for them to afford the equipment and materials necessary to become a licensed organic farmer. We don’t want the little guys to pushed out just because the corporations are better suited financially to take on the responsibility of organic farming.
Not only are smaller farmers struggling with keeping up with the corporations, the natural pesticides that organic farmers are allowed to use can still be harmful to consumers. To better explain this idea, it is helpful to look at the way that Vitamin C can be derived. Vitamin C can be derived naturally from an orange, or it can be derived synthetically from glucose. Just because one is natural, does that make it any better or worse than the synthetic version? We need to make sure that the USDA is being more specific with what pesticides they are allowing growers to use on the products that we consume.
These are all interesting points to keep in mind as you move through your grocery store and consider what products you should, or should not buy for yourself and your family. While we know that organic farming is a healthier and more environmentally friendly option for growing food, we also need to keep in mind that sometimes the government doesn’t always have our best interest at heart. Do your part to push the government to keep organic farming in line with our goals for the future of farming.