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What is Organic?
There is no one single definition of the term 'organic'. It is a complex matter that is best described by a set of principles rather than a single sentence.
The following brief description is drawn from the basic standards of IFOAM ( the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements), and from the New Zealand standards of BioGro and Demeter.
- Organic production, which includes biodynamic production, seeks to produce food and fibre of optimum quality, in sufficient quantity, in an integrated agro-ecosystem that is sustainable, humane and non-polluting.
- It is based on systems and practices that foster beneficial processes and interactions such as occur in natural ecosystems, encouraging internal stability rather than reliance on external control measures. Inputs should be renewable, and work as far as possible with natural cycles rather than trying to dominate them.
- It avoids or excludes the use of synthetically compounded fertilisers, pesticides, growth regulators, livestock feed additives, antibiotic and hormone stimulants and all genetically modified organisms, using instead cultural, biological and mechanical methods.
Organic systems seek to:
- Enhance biological diversity of the production system and its surroundings, including the protection of plant and wildlife habitats.
- Enhance long-term soil fertility, structure and biological activity, and conserve soil resource.
- Conserve and recycle nutrients and organic material, working as much as possible within a closed system through use of composting, crop residues, animal manures, and green manures.
- Encourage and enhance biological cycles within the farming system, involving microorganisms, soil flora and fauna, plants and animals.
- Give all livestock conditions of life that allow them to perform all aspects of their innate behaviour, including appropriate stocking rates and avoiding intensive rearing operations.
- Promote the rational use and proper care of water and water resources.
- Provide positive care of the environment and minimize all forms of pollution and environmental degradation.
- Allow everyone involved in organic production and processing a quality of life that meets their basic needs, and an adequate return and satisfaction from their work, including a safe working environment.
- Consider the wider social and ecological impact of the production and processing systems, and progress toward an entire production, processing and distribution chain that is both socially just and ecologically responsible.
Development of organic agriculture – exploring a definition
Written by Holger Kahl, Soil & Health Co-chair May 2006
The development of organic agriculture needs to be about improving the quality of environmentally sound organic growing processes and its products, expanding the uptake of organic systems and, generally and overall, about creating better lives for producers, processors, traders and consumers.
Development of Organic Agriculture must not happen at the cost of trading off the organic principles and the identity and integrity of the organic production process and its products.
Development can mean growing faster and bigger and having more area under organic management as long as the above mentioned factors are not compromised.
- Consider an ‘organic’ dairy farm on the Canterbury Plains of New Zealand. This is an area in New Zealand that has experienced a rapid ‘development’ in dairy farming.
- Cows graze on diverse and healthy pastures. Animal health is fantastic. No chemicals are used on the land or for animal health. The farm is large: several hundred cows on thousands of hectares, managed extensively.
- The catch is that the land has to be frequently irrigated in order to produce sufficient pasture growth. The irrigation scheme is depleting the natural aquifers. The heavy irrigation on the light, stony soils of the plains leads to rapid leaching of nitrates from the animal manures into streams and groundwater.
- Can this be called organic production? Is the milk organic? Should the farm receive organic certification?
- How much are we prepared to accept the potential of natural ecosystems in developing organics and how much will we be tempted to push boundaries and limitations?
Intrinsic Values of Organic Products
Organic products carry intrinsic values that create their unique organic identity, such as enhancing the environment and biodiversity and improving physical and community health (social, environmental and economic). Any development must preserve this identity.
The Principles of Conventional and Organic Agriculture – A Comparison
|Maximise, determined by availability and affordability of inputs;Large-scale, often owned by or economically tied to major food corporations||Scale||Optimise, determined by natural limits of the system;Relatively small-scale, independent operations e.g. the family farm|
|Efficient part of the system, means of operating||Labour/communities||Integral part of the system, one of the reasons for operating|
|Optimise||Quality of Products||Maximise|
|Efficient part of the system; to be protected as an important resource, means of operating||Health of Environment||Integral part of the system; to be protected and enhanced as one of the reasons of operating|
|Marginal role||Traditional/indigenous knowledge||Integral part of system design and development|
|Considered as part of marketing||Health of consumers & producers||Integral part of the system, one of the reasons for operating|
|Facilitate marketing and trading||Standards||Guarantee integrity of the productions systems and products|
|Lessen dependency for economic reasons||External Resources (fossil fuels)||Lessen dependency for philosophical, environmental and economic reasons/|
|Optimise||Production per ecological footprint||Maximise|
|Free trade with equal opportunities for those on an equal footing||Equity||Fair trade aiming at providing/creating/working on equity|
|Marginal role||Quality of Life of producers, processors, traders and consumers||Integral part of system design and development, one of the reasons for operating|
|Branding/trademark identity for marketing and trade||Identity of Products||Intrinsic values as part of product identity e.g. environmental and biodiversity benefits, consumer and community health, nutritional value (absence of contaminants and presence of nutrients, antioxidants etc)|
|Maximising for profit||End Goal||Optimising for all system benefits and reasons for operating|