Why Organic?

I wasn’t one to eat organic, so again, a lot of research had to go into this area before I decided I wanted to make certain preserves organic. What is organic farming? Organic production is defined as using “cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and ...



3/19/202110 min read

I wasn’t one to eat organic, so again, a lot of research had to go into this area before I decided I wanted to make certain preserves organic.  

What is organic farming?

Organic production is defined as using “cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.”  The word “organic” refers to the way farmers grow and process agricultural products, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products, and meat.  Organic is a vision for working and living in harmony with nature.  The result is healthy soil, which grows healthy plants, which makes for healthy people.
By abstaining from synthetic inputs and encouraging natural systems, organic farmers help create a better future for people, animals, and the environment.
Organic farming practices are designed to meet the following goals:

  • Enhance soil and water quality

  • Reduce pollution

  • Provide safe, healthy livestock habitats

  • Enable natural livestock behavior

  • Promote a self-sustaining cycle of resources on a farm

Materials or practices not permitted in organic farming include:

  • Synthetic fertilizers to add nutrients to the soil

  • Sewage sludge as fertilizer

  • Most synthetic pesticides for pest control

  • Irradiation to preserve food or to eliminate disease or pests

  • Genetic engineering used to improve disease or pest resistance or to improve crop yields

  • Antibiotics or growth hormones for livestock

Organic crop farming materials or practices may include:

  • Plant waste left on fields (green manure), livestock manure, or compost to improve soil quality

  • Plant rotation to preserve soil quality and to interrupt cycles of pests or disease

  • Cover crops that prevent erosion when parcels of land are not in use and plow into soil for improving soil quality

  • Mulch to control weeds

  • Predatory insects or insect traps to control pests

  • Certain natural pesticides and a few synthetic pesticides approved for organic farming, are used rarely and only as a last resort in coordination with a USDA organic certifying agent

Organic farming practices for livestock include:

  • Healthy living conditions and access to the outdoors

  • Pasture feeding for at least 30 percent of livestock’s nutritional needs during the grazing season

  • Organic foods for animals

  • Vaccinations

  • Meet animal health and welfare standards

  • Refuse to use antibiotics and growth hormones, and

  • Ensure animals have access to the outdoors

Organic food: Is it safer or more nutritious?

There is a growing body of evidence that shows some potential health benefits of organic foods when compared with conventionally grown foods.  While these studies have shown differences in the food, there is limited information to draw conclusions about how these differences translate into overall health benefits.

Potential benefits include the following:

-Nutrients. Studies have shown small to moderate increases in some nutrients in organic produce.  The best evidence of a significant increase is in certain types of flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties.  Recent studies have found that organic fruits, vegetables, and grains have more antioxidants, fewer nitrates and cadmium, and fewer pesticide residues than non-organic crops, making them more nutritious.

-Omega-3 fatty acids. The feeding requirements for organic livestock farming, such as the primary use of grass and alfalfa for cattle, result in generally higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, a kind of fat that is more heart-healthy than other fats.  These higher omega-3 fatty acids are found in organic meats, dairy, and eggs.

-Toxic metal. Cadmium is a toxic chemical naturally found in soils and absorbed by plants.  Studies have shown significantly lower cadmium levels in organic grains, but not fruits and vegetables, when compared with conventionally grown crops.  The lower cadmium levels in organic grains may be related to the ban on synthetic fertilizers in organic farming.

-Pesticide residue. Compared with conventionally grown produce, organically grown produce has lower detectable levels of pesticide residue.  Organic produce may have residue because of pesticides approved for organic farming or because of airborne pesticides from conventional farms.  The difference in health outcomes is unclear because of safety regulations for maximum levels of residue allowed on conventional produce.

-Bacteria. Meats produced conventionally may have a higher occurrence of bacteria resistant to antibiotic treatment.  The overall risk of bacterial contamination of organic foods is the same as conventional foods.

According to California Certified Organic Farmers, “Studies show that organically grown food has higher amounts of Vitamin C, magnesium, phosphorous, and iron – all nutrients vital for healthy functioning of our bodies.  Organic fruits and vegetables are high in nutrients and antioxidants, which provide energy and keep you looking young.  Data shows that organic milk contains far more omega-3 fatty acids than conventional milk.”

Though organic food can be produced with certain synthetic ingredients, it must adhere to specific standards regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Crops are generally grown without synthetic pesticides, artificial fertilizers, irradiation (a form of radiation used to kill bacteria), or biotechnology. Animals on organic farms eat organically grown feed, aren’t confined 100 percent of the time (as they sometimes are on conventional farms), and are raised without antibiotics or synthetic growth hormones.

Organic foods may have higher nutritional value than conventional food, according to some research.  The reason: In the absence of pesticides and fertilizers, plants boost their production of the phytochemicals (vitamins and antioxidants) that strengthen their resistance to bugs and weeds.  Some studies have linked pesticides in our food to everything from headaches to cancer to birth defects — but many experts maintain that the levels in conventional food are safe for most healthy adults.  Even low-level pesticide exposure, however, can be significantly more toxic for fetuses and children (due to their less-developed immune systems) and for pregnant women (it puts added strain on their already taxed organs), according to a report by the National Academy of Sciences.

Pesticide contamination isn’t as much of a concern in meats and dairy products (animals may consume some pesticides, depending on their diet), but many scientists are concerned about the antibiotics being given to most farm animals: Many are the same antibiotics humans rely on, and overuse of these drugs has already enabled bacteria to develop resistance to them, rendering them less effective in fighting infection, says Chuck Benbrook, Ph.D., chief scientist at the Organic Center, a nonprofit research organization.

Organic farming reduces pollutants in groundwater and creates richer soil that aids plant growth while reducing erosion, according to the Organic Trade Association.  It also decreases pesticides that can end up in your drinking glass; in some cities, pesticides in tap water have been measured at unsafe levels for weeks at a time, according to an analysis performed by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).  Plus, organic farming used 50 percent less energy than conventional farming methods in one 15-year study.

According to a 2014 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, the higher antioxidant levels in organic produce might actually enhance its organoleptic qualities — a.k.a. its aroma, taste, and even the sensation in your mouth as you’re eating it.

Organic for the Planet Organic farmers face the same challenges as non-organic farmers: weeds, pests, diseases, drought, floods, and nutrient requirements. They have made the decision to grow food in a way that protects both people and the planet. Organic farmers are focused on preserving the soil for future generations by farming in a way that sustains nutrients and harbors beneficial organisms (like worms!). Organic farming neither causes nor leads to soil erosion, groundwater contamination, ocean dead zones, or loss of biodiversity.

Preserve the Environment Organic farmers are required to use Integrated Pest Management practices, protect wildlife, promote biodiversity, and work to improve and maintain native ecosystems. These efforts are documented in the farmer’s Organic System Plan and evaluated by CCOF. Organic production is free of genetic engineering - increasing organic production will help mitigate the unwanted spread of GMO crops and contamination.

Mitigate the Effects of Climate Change Organic agriculture limits the effects of climate change. Organic farmers are extremely dedicated to the excellent quality of their soil. Research from the Rodale Institute demonstrates that soil under organic production can remove about 7,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air each year through sequestration. Imagine the impact that more acres of organic production could have on the health of the planet if consumers demanded more organic foods!

Healthy Soil and Water
Organic standards require a program of soil building, which protects against soil erosion and water pollution.  Healthy soil promotes vigorous soil life that, in turn, breaks down minerals and makes a complex meal of nutrients available to growing plants.  Synthetic fertilizers deliver the three primary nutrients needed for plant growth, but leave out the diverse micronutrients that lead to plant vigor and health.  Organic farmers are prohibited from using most synthetic fertilizers.  They maintain the health of their soil by using manure, compost, and other organic material.  Up to 40% of the synthetic fertilizers used on conventional farms end up in ground and surface waters, eventually polluting rivers, lakes, and oceans.

No Genetic Engineering
Organic standards prohibit the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for seed or stock. The US government has allowed, even encouraged, the development and release of many GMOs into our environment and food system.  Until compulsory GMO labeling is adopted in this country, buying certified organic is your best guarantee of no genetic engineering in your food.  When the seeds are genetically modified in the labs using unnatural methods like gene-splicing to ensure resulting plants are displaying desired traits.  GMO plants cannot form naturally.  They are not available to the general public but they are starting to be used more often for large-scale commercial farming.  An example of a GMO plant is the bt-corn.  Hybrid and GMO plants may offer certain benefits such as being pest-resistant against flies and ants.  Gardeners are unable to save GMO seeds after harvest and must buy new seeds every year from companies like Monsanto.

No Growth Hormones
Organic standards prohibit the use of growth hormones like ractopamine.  US government regulations permit hormone use in conventional livestock operations to increase the size or rate of gain of animals raised for meat, or to stimulate the production of animal products like milk.  Conventional farmers give cows growth hormones briefly to boost milk output.  These hormones can impair fertility in cows and lead to visibly abnormal milk and hoof disorders.  Milk from hormone-treated cows has been linked to an increased risk of cancer in humans.

No Sludge
Many conventional farmers spread sewage sludge as fertilizer on their fields.
Sewage sludge includes anything that is flushed, poured, or dumped into the wastewater system.  Organic farmers are prohibited from using sewage sludge in their fields.  Conventional crops can be treated with “biosolids,” which are the treated waste that’s flushed down the toilet, and waste from hospitals and industry.  Organic standards prohibit the use of sewage sludge as a fertilizer, instead of relying on the use of composted manure, crop residues, green manures, cover crops, and rock powders to provide needed nutrients to plants.  US government regulations permit sludge to be used on conventional farms despite concerns about contamination by high levels of heavy minerals, dioxins, and other chemicals from industrial and commercial sources.

Open Space
Organic standards prohibit confinement or feedlot-style livestock operations.
Organically raised animals generally must be allowed access to range or pasture.
This promotes animal health and contributes as well to maintaining large areas of open land in otherwise developing communities.

No Antibiotics
The overuse of antibiotics to foster growth in conventional livestock production has contributed to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of some dangerous microbes.  Organic farmers can only treat livestock with antibiotics as a last resort for sick animals and the animals that receive antibiotic treatment lose their organic certification.  This helps preserve the effectiveness of vital antibiotics for humans.  Organic standards prohibit the routine use of antibiotics in livestock operations.  US government regulations permit conventional animals to be routinely fed subtherapeutic levels of antibiotics to promote growth and prevent disease from their overcrowded conditions.  Antibiotics may only be administered to an organic animal when the animal is sick and needs treatment.  Such animals may then no longer be marketed as organic.  The overuse of growth-promoting antibiotics is creating superbugs that could threaten the human population.  Antibiotics have been used for years, not just to fight infection, but to fatten up farm animals.  This use is polluting our environment, water, and food supply.  Studies show that antibiotics have the same consequences for us, and can fatten us up too.  This is because antibiotics kill off healthy bacteria in the gut – beneficial bugs called probiotics that influence how we absorb nutrients, burn off calories, and stay lean.

No Irradiation
Organic standards prohibit the use of ionizing radiation to preserve food.  US government regulations allow irradiation of both produce and meat. Irradiation proponents argue that it extends shelf life and kills microbes, which may spoil food and cause human illness.  Opponents argue that it also kills the enzymes, vitamins, and healthfulness of food.  They suggest cleaning up the feedlots and industrial food processing operations as an alternative way of protecting the public from disease.

Only Natural Pesticides
Organic food must be grown without the use of persistent pesticides.  Organic standards prohibit the use of synthetic pesticides, exposure to which has been linked with a number of serious human diseases.  US government regulations allow such pesticides, although setting limits for application rates in the field and residue levels on food.  While natural pesticides are allowed on organic crops, it’s been shown that organic produce has very low levels of pesticide residue compared with conventional crops, and by eating organic you can significantly decrease your exposure to pesticide residues.  The most widely-used herbicide on the planet – Glyphosate (Roundup) – is prohibited on organic crops.  Non-GMO crops such as wheat can be pre-harvested with glyphosate.
This herbicide is a toxin that can accumulate in your body the more you are exposed to it.  It has been linked to kidney disease, breast cancer, and some birth defects.  According to Dr. Stephanie Seneff, a senior research scientist at MIT, “glyphosate is largely responsible for the escalating incidence of autoimmune and other neurological disorders that we are experiencing.”

n-Hexane processed ingredients are banned from products with the USDA Organic seal.

Humane Conditions
Organic farmers and ranchers must accommodate the natural behavior of their livestock and meet health and wellness requirements, including year-round access to the outdoors, space for exercise, clean and dry bedding, clean water, shelter, and direct sunlight.  Organic standards require that animals be treated humanely.  This is spelled out in specific detail in the form of housing requirements for space, ventilation, and manure accumulation, as well as access to appropriate pasture or range, health care, food and water, treatment of the young, etc.  The organic approach is based on the belief that agriculture must produce thriving plant and animal products to ensure a healthy cycle of life.

No Animal Cannibalism
Organic standards require that animals be fed appropriately and prohibit practices such as feeding animal products from rendering plants.  US government regulations allow rendered animal products to be fed to cattle, sheep, and other herbivores as a protein supplement.  This practice has been associated with outbreaks of “Mad Cow Disease”.

2019 “Dirty Dozen”

The Environmental Working Group bases its list, which is not peer-reviewed, on annual reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program.  More than 99% of produce samples tested for that report had pesticide residues acceptable to the EPA, but EWG believes the federal standards are insufficient.

  1. Strawberries

  2. Spinach

  3. Kale

  4. Nectarines

  5. Apples

  6. Grapes

  7. Peaches

  8. Cherries

  9. Pears

  10. Tomatoes

  11. Celery

  12. Potatoes

  13. Hot peppers

2019 “Clean 15”

  1. Avocados

  2. Sweet corn

  3. Pineapples

  4. Sweet peas (frozen)

  5. Onions

  6. Papayas

  7. Eggplants

  8. Asparagus

  9. Kiwis

  10. Cabbage

  11. Cauliflower

  12. Cantaloupes

  13. Broccoli

  14. Mushrooms

  15. Honeydew

The Alliance for Food and Farming’s Teresa Thorne, says “We’re strong advocates for consumer choice, whether you choose conventional or organic produce, is great with us – just choose to eat more.”