Monday, November 15, 2010

What is Organic (Farming)?

I find this question intriguing, because it’s something that at first glance seems like it will have a simple answer. When you look at the definition of ‘organic’ on dictionary.com, the concept seems straightforward enough. “Characteristic of, pertaining to, or derived from living organisms” and “developing in a manner analogous to the natural growth and evolution characteristic of living organisms; arising as a natural outgrowth” are two of the major definitions. So, by these terms, it seems that organic can generally be summed up as ‘all-natural.’ And, by that logic, organic farming constitutes the use of only all-natural crops, pesticides, and fertilizer during production. Problem solved, right?

Yet, when you read this article about the USDA attempting to define organic, the concept becomes murkier. They bring debates about sustainability and humane treatment of animals into the mix, trying to fit the concept of ‘organic’ into these terms. But why? Why can’t organic farming simply be defined as previously stated? The problem may be that the public has finally gotten its foot in the door in terms of organic policy-making, and now that they have this hold they want to make the definition of ‘organic’ as broad as possible to address as many of the problems associated with conventional farming as possible. By broadening the scope of ‘organic,’ we wouldn’t have to follow dozens of different grassroots organizations that are trying to make a difference in each individual sector of agricultural. Instead, we could have this one word, and therefore one movement, that encompasses all the relevant issues.

I personally would love for organic to mean all of these things. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if 'organic' fixed every problem of agribusiness? If organic could just be defined as "the practices by which agriculture will become more sustainable and humane?" Unfortunately, this type of idealistic definition would be hard-pressed to work in the real world. In the context of law, regulations, and politics this definition is far too vague. So I think we need to keep organic ‘all-natural,’ and instead supplement other concepts, such as sustainability, worker’s rights, animal treatment, etc., into our agricultural regulations. It would be great if organic was the all-encompassing solution, but it can't be.

Laura Bateman

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