Walk into any supermarket and you'll find fresh vegetables, canned goods, poultry, and even personal hygiene products labeled as "organic."
But have you ever wondered what it means?
As organic farming does not use pesticides, many believe organic food is completely chemical free.
But does this mean organic farming produces food that is actually free of harmful substances?
Before we seek answers, let’s learn some details about organic farming and how organic food is processed.
WHAT IS ORGANIC FOOD?
In the 1940s, Lord Northbourne, a Oxford University farmer, coined the term 'organic farming'. Northbourne proposed the idea of considering “the farm as an organism”.
Today, modern organic agriculture continues to uphold this philosophy, which takes into account different practices that affect farming practices. There is no single, universally accepted definition of organic food or organic farming. But, in general, policies and legislation around organic farming strive to conserve biodiversity, recycle farm resources, and achieve ecological balance. Most countries have imposed stern legislations to define precisely what is allowed on an organic farm and what is not. However, a common requirement worldwide is the restricted use of synthetic chemicals.
WHY ARE SYNTHETIC CHEMICALS RESTRICTED ON ORGANIC FARMS?
Throughout the history of agriculture, farmers have used the chemical properties of different elements and compounds to improve the crop yield. These are called "agrochemicals" and include a wide range of natural and synthetic substances used to protect crops against pests or enrich the soil.
The Green Revolution, an agricultural movement that took place in the 1950s and 1960s, was primarily responsible for introducing synthetic agrochemicals in developing countries while promoting and intensifying their use in developed countries.
By keeping insects and plant diseases at bay, these chemicals significantly increased crop yields. Hence, their indiscriminate use also caused adverse effects on agriculture. Air and water pollution, reduction of natural soil fertility, unintended death of certain animals and plants, and potentially harmful food residues are some of the consequences of excessive use of agrochemicals. One of the goals of organic farming is to produce food without creating these adverse side effects. This is why the use of synthetic chemicals is restricted in organic farming.
WHAT DO ORGANIC FARMERS DO TO COMBAT PESTS?
In agricultural terms, any living organism that adversely affects crops and livestock is considered a pest. They're a bit like guests who show up to your party uninvited, eat all your food and then head off to the next block party.
That's not cool at all.
Therefore, it is essential to take steps to keep pests away from farms.
Plant protection products (PPP) protect plants against pest attacks, which can be of chemical or biological origin. Biological PPP are often called "biological pesticides" or "biopesticides."
Organic farmers cannot use PPP containing synthetic chemicals and must focus on applying preventive measures. The biological pest control technique, also known as biocontrol, involves the release of natural pest enemies (such as ladybugs) on the farm. This is a popular preventative measure. Natural pest repellents, such as essential oils extracted from garlic, black pepper, rosemary, and other common herbs, are also used to prevent pests. In addition, plant species naturally resistant to pests are preferred.
CAN CONVENTIONAL PESTICIDES END UP IN AN ORGANIC PRODUCT?
Although organic farmers do not use synthetic pesticides, agrochemical deposits in the soil are difficult to remove. These pesticides can still find their way into your food through indirect sources, such as polluted water and air.
Of course, studies comparing pesticide residue levels in organic and conventional foods generally report less contamination in the first few years.
However, chemical contamination does not occur exclusively in the field. Some foods must be processed before they can be eaten.
Food processing generally involves interaction with various chemicals, such as preservatives, processing aids, and additives. The packaging material that comes into contact with food can also leach undesirable chemicals into the food.
During its farm to plate journey, unprocessed, organic foods like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains don't have to go through many intermediate steps. Therefore, they are less likely to come into contact with additional chemicals.
The good news: the international food safety legislation dictates what levels of these chemicals are considered acceptable. Hence, any food available on the market, organic or non-organic, must meet these safety standards.
So, to summarize, any food you eat must not contain unacceptable levels of chemical contaminants. However, consuming organic food will help reduce the contamination of agrochemicals in the environment.