What is Organic Food?
If you’ve never seen History of the World Part 1, then this is lost on you.
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
Those are the basic commandments of organic food and fiber production as set down by the USDA. It may seem like that list should be a little more detailed, perhaps. A little more in depth. BUT, as George Carlin famously whittled down the 10 commandments to 2, I think that list should also be taken to the chopping block. My first objection to this is list: it makes it seem as if conventional agricultural doesn’t practice or adhere to any of the above (more on that later). SO! Let’s get to trimming.
Commandment 1: Preserve natural resources and biodiversity. This seems rather a subjective guideline. I searched the terms and definitions list and couldn’t find much help for what they mean here. Natural resources are defined as the physical, hydrological, and biological features of a production operation, including soil, water, wetlands, woodlands, and wildlife. Ok. So… how much preservation are we talking here? Organic farming requires more land to equal conventional production, especially in vegetable and grain production. In effect, that would destroy more natural habitats due to land clearance, lowering biodiversity and increasing water usage. There are stipulations about crop rotation, cover crops and prevented soil erosion, but none of those are unique to organic. Still, I’ll let this commandment stand on its own, if nothing else because it’s a noble idea.
Commandments 2 & 3: Support animal health and welfare / provide access to outdoors so that animals can exercise their natural behaviors. Rule 3 seems more like a subset of rule two. It’s under the same umbrella principle of treating your animals well, so we can combine those two into one. But then, what is a natural behavior? Is it natural for animals to be fenced in? I don’t believe so. For instance, a cow’s natural behavior would be to graze and roam (potentially into the bean patch or alfalfa field). I realize this is nit-picky, but I don’t really care if my chicken was allowed to roam or if it was kept indoors. I want my food to be cost effective and nutritious (which conventional practices are quite good at producing). I am more concerned about the welfare of people than I am the welfare of my food. Farmers spend countless hours caring for their livestock. This doesn’t need to be a stipulation.
Commandments 4 & 5: only use approved materials / do not use genetically modified ingredients. Didn’t we just cover this same issue? Rules 4 and 5 can easily be rolled up into the same pile of b.s. The list of approved and unapproved materials is laughable. “A synthetically produced, chemically organic fungicide, Captan, is declared not ‘organic,’ but the synthetically produced, chemically inorganic fungicide copper sulfate is declared ‘organic.’” (Read the rest of the entertaining Random Rationality post here). As for what a genetically modified ingredient is, the site lacks a definition that I could find. No matter, because whatever crop the farmers are planting has been genetically modified at one point or another through its own genetic mutation, cross breeding and pollination, etc. Why would a plant be more likely to cause cancer because its genetic sequence was manipulated in a controlled, lab environment? Genetically modified organisms make food more abundant, nutritious, affordable, more environmentally friendly because of fewer chemicals needed, improve water conservation and even decrease medical costs. It seems like a lack of respect for human intellect and ingenuity. I digress. Onward.
Commandment 6: receive annual on site inspections. Fine. Maybe I’m getting lazy, but this one can stand alone.
Commandment 7: Separate organic food from non organic food. Please do. I am in full support of this. If I eat some produce that isn’t organic, there is a
likelihood I could die, or at the least I’ll experience some serious digestive issues. All food is carbon based (minerals and vitamins don’t count as food). That is what organic means. “Organic food” is a hollow term. As the link/list for approved and unapproved materials shows anyway, organic food is still grown using synthetic (often more environmentally and physically hazardous than conventional) chemicals.
So there we go. We took a list of 7 and smashed it down to 3. Commandments 2 and 3 get combined along with commandments 4 and 5 getting combined. Commandments 1 and 7 get axed completely.
Listen, I do believe there is a place for organic agricultural practices. There are benefits and diversified methods are needed for overall agricultural improvements. However, organic consumers should not be able to dictate conventional practices by blatantly spreading misinformation. Let’s not forget that there is such a thing as “Big Organic.”