In a recent debate on social media, I was surprised at how many people were convinced that organics is not sustainable, and that it is even harmful to the environment. After much trawling through comments and eliminating one or two ‘bogus’ social media profiles, it became evident that many of these organic farming critics have a lack of understanding around what organic means, and the principles behind it.
Let’s address some of the common statements that were made:
“Only about 30% of organic food is actually even organic”
First of all, we’re not sure where this person derived the number of 30% from. However, what they may be referring to is that there are foods which have the word ‘organic’ in their name, but are not actually certified. This is likely where the notion that ‘organic food is not actually organic’ has come from. A food producer may genuinely believe their product is organic and that the ingredients in it have been organically grown. Or they may have just used the word because they can (marketing purposes). However, the best way to ensure that what you are eating really is organic, is by choosing products that are certified. If you choose certified organic, you can rest assured that the product has met strict organic criteria and standards.
“Organic pesticides are worse for the environment”
This statement shows a lack of understanding of organic principles. Organic systems use principles such as manure to feed the soil, crop rotation, ecology and biodiversity, and companion planting to grow strong, healthy crops. Organic farmers understand these principles and follow them so that there is little need for pesticides. Many organic farmers will choose to remove weeds manually rather than apply a natural pesticide. Yes, there are pesticides that are allowed to be used in organic farming but they are naturally derived and are biodegradable. If they are used, the focus is on control, rather than annihilation of pests because organic farmers understand the importance of a fully functioning eco system.
This statement prompted me into an email discussion with Philippa Jamieson, editor of Organic NZ. Philippa explains: “Organic growers are allowed under certification rules to use a certain quantity of copper sprays in orchards for fungal disease, but it’s limited. Copper is a heavy metal and can build up in the soil. Apart from that I haven’t heard of any organic pesticide that anyone in the organic sector (or outside of it) has expressed any concern about whatsoever!”
“The organic system is un-regulated”
I suspect that the worry here is similar to the concern behind the first statement (“Only about 30% of organic food is actually even organic”). The problem here may be more related to the consumers’ perception that something is organic, by the way it is marketed. Remember to choose certified organic so you can rest assured that the product you are choosing has been regulated. In NZ, the organic certification bodies are Bio Gro NZ, Asurequality and OFNZ.
I am far more concerned about the regulation of non-organic pesticides because so many harmful pesticides have been regulated for use.
“Organic farming is not sustainable”
The argument here is that yields from organic farming are lower so we need more land to get the same amount and balance of food and would have to destroy forest to do so.
To respond to the critics on this one: We could go organic if we all ate less meat and more vegetables, pulses and grains as it takes far less land to produce these foods than it does for meat. A surplus of food and environmental problems exist with the traditional system.
Additionally, studies are now noting comparable yields in organic farming – the gap is closing.