For most of history, farming was organic simply because of the available materials used in agriculture. Only during the middle to late 20th and early 21st centuries, with the advent of synthetic chemicals, was a new process for fertilizing and preserving foods available. This more recent style of production is referred to as "conventional," though organic production has been the convention for a much greater period of time. With organic methods, the use of chemical pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals is not only restricted, but regulated. There may be times, however, when certain non-organic products are still used when necessary. If livestock are involved, they must be reared without the routine use of antibiotics and without the use of growth hormones, and generally fed a healthy diet (Stokstad, 2002). While controversial, in most countries around the world, produce labeled as "organic" may not be genetically modified in any way. It has been suggested that the application of nanotechnology to food and agriculture is a further technology that needs to be excluded from certified organic food (Lyons, 2008).
Under most agriculture rules, organic food production is quite separate from private gardening and is regulated. Currently, the European Union, the United States, Canada, Japan and many other countries require producers to obtain special certification in order to market food as "organic" within their borders. Most certifications allow some chemicals and pesticides to be used, so consumers should be aware of the standards for qualifying as "organic" in their respective locales. Historically, organic farms have family run operations that have remained small -- typically the produce was only available at local farmer's markets. However, since the early 1990s organic food production has had growth rates of around 20% a year, far ahead of the rest of the food industry, in both developed and developing nations ("Family Farms," 2009).
Within the food industry, organic products are the fastest growing sector of the U.S. And EU food industries with sales growing about 20% per year as opposed to 2-3% for non-organic foods. In the United States, the organic market broke the $30 billion barrier in 2011 with growth of almost 10%. Globally, organic foods account for only 4% of total food sales, but the market is growing rapidly. In fact, since the early 1990s, the organic market has been growing at least 20% annually, when global countries are combined -- resulting in sales from $23 billion (USD) to $52 billion (USD) in 2008 ("Food: Global Guide," 2009; Scott-Thomas, 2012).
Legal Definition of Organic -- There is not a standard definition of the term "organic" when used for food products -- to be certified organic, products must me grown and manufactured in a manner that adheres to certain standards set by the country they are sold in, not the country they originate or are manufactured. In the United States, for instance, standards are set by the National Organic Program, a Federal Agency put into place in October 2002. This agency, administered by the Department of Agriculture, follows up the Organic Food Production Act of 1990 to cover all aspects of food production, processing, delivery, and retail sale. Under this NOP, farmers and food processors who wish to use the word "organic" in reference to their products must be certified organic ("Program Overview," 2009).
Nutritional Value and Taste -- There has been a great deal of controversy surrounding the question of whether organic products taste better, or have higher nutritional values. This does not necessarily go to the question about why produce tastes better, but how produce is grown. For example, given a sample product like a tomato -- taste results from soil content, genetics, and allowing the tomato to ripen naturally. Regardless of whether the product is grown using organic methods, if it is picked early (green) and shipped to ripen in the grocery store, there will be a loss of taste. Some research does show that natural fertilizers cause an improvement in taste, but the key factor is that many organic producers are more localized and therefore get their product to market quicker (Nichols, 2009).
According to a study done in the United Kingdom, for instance, "Consumers may choose to buy organic fruit, vegetables and meat because they believe them to be more nutritious than other food. However, the balance of current scientific evidence does not support this view" ('Organic Food," 2008). A 12-month systematic review commissioned by the FSA in 2009 and conducted at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine based on 50-year's worth of collected evidence concluded that "there is no good evidence that consumption of organic food is beneficial to health in relation to nutrient content (Goodchild, 2009) Other studies have found no proof that organic food offers greater nutritional values, more consumer safety or any distinguishable difference in taste in general (based on blind taste tests) (Bourn and Prescott, 2002).
One of the issues surrounding organic foods is that the limited use of preservatives has a tendency to cause the foods to spoil quicker. For organic foods, the fear of spoilage means that the products must be shipped quicker to the stores, stored properly, and ordered in quantities in which large inventories are not needed. There are cases, potatoes for instance, in which organic foods may have a higher amount of natural biotoxins because of a lack of commercially applied fungicides and herbicides (Winter, 2006).
Economic Issues - Even with the increased amount of production, organic agriculture is typically 10-30% more expensive than non-organic. Prices may be higher because production is lower, transportation must be faster, or because of a lack of preservatives, there is higher waste. In the case of meet or eggs, for instance, it may take longer to produce similar amounts of product because of a lack of hormones, growth regulators or factory-style production methods. All of this increases cost, however it is clear that consumers are willing to pay more if they believe their food is safer and, in many cases, uses sustainable and non-cruel harvesting methods (Nestle, 2007).
Health Risks from Conventional Farming/Food- Most people who shop at the modern super market may be unaware that the majority of the foods available for sale are processed foods that are filled with chemicals that ostensibly make the food taste better, last longer, and look more colorful. These foods have hydrogenated oils, artificial sweeteners, transfats, and above all, a plethora of high fructose corn syrup. In fact, the foundation of most of the developed world's foods are empty sugar, water, fat, flour, starch, artificial colorings and flavors -- most with very little nutritional value, and some, like processed breads, require more of your body's own nutrients even to digest. This is so serious, in fact, that the World Health Organization believes that processed foods are a major contributor to the rise in obesity and chronic diseases. One epidemiologist noted: When you have calories that are incredibly cheap in a culture where 'bigger is better,; that's a dangerous combination" for everyone (Conventional Foods, 2012).
Organic Foods and the Environment -- There are now numerous studies that exist comparing organic and non-organic agricultural methods. The general consensus across these surveys is that organic farming is less damaging for the following reasons: (1) Organic farms do not consume or release synthetic pesticides into the environment -- some of which have the potential to harm soil, water and local terrestrial and aquatic wildlife, (2) Organic farms are better than conventional farms at sustaining diverse ecosystems, (e.g. populations of a larger variety of insects, plants and even animals within the eco system), (3) The use of energy is typically less, there is less waste, and less packaging materials using an organic and sustainable methodology (Stolze, et.al., 2000).
One argument notes that organic farms require more land to produce similar amounts of food. They argue that if this is true, organic farms could potentially destroy the rainforests and wipe out many ecosystems (Goldberg, 2000). A 2003 investigation by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs in the UK found, similar to other reports, that organic farming "can produce positive environmental benefits," but that some of the benefits were decreased or lost when comparisons are made on "the basis of unit production rather than area" (Shepherd, et.al., 2003).
While there is no solid consensus about the sustainability effects of organic, the marketing shows that consumers are anxious to find produce that meets certain standards and is clear of any damaging hormones or pesticides. It is also unclear as to actually how much pesticide residue is left after washing, as is the impact of big agribusiness on overall environmental conditions. What is clear, though, is that more and more farmers and manufactures are aware that the term "organic" is a powerful sales tool, one in which will only continue to trend upward. It makes sense, then, to invest in the process to at least have part of one's brand certified since this is a global trend that has proven,…