Organic or organics is a form of farming whereby pests and diseases may be controlled only through mechanical and physical methods [eg. removing weeds by hand or by plough rather than via herbicide] including non-synthetic [synthetic = created by man rather than by Mother Nature] controls such as repellants. Diseases may be controlled through application of biological, botanical or non-synthetic mineral inputs (US National Organic Program 2000). Organic certification is a prerequisite for certified Biodynamic farming and wine-growing.
Organic systems are said to use more energy. Bart Arnst says with organic ‘weed control alternatives are slower, however this can be offset by the reduction in canopy sprays. Looking beyond the farm gate we find that the making of chemical fertilisers like nitrogen requires huge amounts of energy. In the United States, organic farming systems use just 63 percent of the energy required by conventional farming systems, David Pimentel of Cornell University in New York State found. Growing organically also offers a number of other environmental benefits. These include waterways free of chemical pollution and improved biodiversity. In some North American and European farming regions, expensive systems must now be used to remove agricultural chemicals from drinking water. Research from the USDA shows the decline in minerals of specific foods over the last sixty years range between 25-80%. Sixty years ago most farmers were organic; they just hadn’t categorized it yet.
Organics defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
The Codex Alimentarius (Latin for “Book of Food”) is a collection of internationally recognized standards, codes of practice, guidelines and other recommendations relating to foods, food production and food safety. Its name is derived from the Codex Alimentarius Austriacus. Its texts are developed and maintained by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, a body that was established in early November 1961 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), was joined by the World Health Organization (WHO) in June 1962, and held its first session in Rome in October 1963. The Commission’s main goals are to protect the health of consumers and ensure fair practices in the international food trade. The Codex Alimentarius is recognized by the World Trade Organization as an international reference point for the resolution of disputes concerning food safety and consumer protection.
The FAO says “there are many explanations and definitions for organic agriculture but all converge to state that it is a system that relies on ecosystem management rather than external agricultural inputs. It is a system that begins to consider potential environmental and social impacts by eliminating the use of synthetic inputs, such as synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, veterinary drugs, genetically modified seeds and breeds, preservatives, additives and irradiation. These are replaced with site-specific management practices that maintain and increase long-term soil fertility and prevent pest and diseases. In 1999 the Codex Alimentarius Commission of the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)/WHO (World Health Organization), defined organic farming in 1999 in this way:
«Organic farming is a holistic production system which promotes and improves the health of the agricultural ecosystem, to promote biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. Favors the use of best management practices for farming, rather than the use of external inputs, given that production systems must be adapted to regional conditions. This is achieved where possible through the use of cultural, biological and mechanical at the expense of the use of synthetic materials.»
Why does organics need to be defined? For market purposes, a strict definition of organic agriculture is required to protect both producer and consumer interests. Definitions were first developed in the private sector. The most widely adopted definition was developed and promoted by the International Federal of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), a non-governmental organization that has existed for 25 years (see Box 2). The IFOAM Principle Aims are used as guidelines for setting standards for organic agriculture in individual countries. The word “organic” (or a similar word) is protected by law in a number of countries (see US definition in Box 2). Long before the word was legislated, the need was felt within organic agriculture circles to define the concept, and to spell out, in detail, what it meant in practice. The details, as described in the standards, are the minimum requirements to which those working with organic products (such as farmers, processors, transporters, retailers) need to keep themselves. Apart from indicating to the producer which practices are allowed, standards (and the certification structure which goes with them) safeguard fair competition within organic management. That is, nobody can sell products under the name while using cheaper practices which are not allowed under organic management. At the same time, standards indicate clearly to the consumer what the conditions are under which the products are grown.