Photo: Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

What is organic food and how does it help you improve your health and the environment?

The goal of organic agriculture is to produce foods using a natural and sustainable food production system that sustains our health and the health of soils and ecosystems. It does this by avoiding the use of harmful chemicals such as toxic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, and by prohibiting the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), toxic sludge, irradiation, or other production methods that are harmful for the environment.

The definition of organic food varies from country to country, as hundreds of organic standards have been developed worldwide since the 1940s. Some form of organic standard is included in regulations of more than 60 governments. In most countries, falsely labeling non-organic foods as organic can result in significant fines and other penalties. The resulting "Organic" label gives us the opportunity and the choice to eat foods that are better for our bodies, for our families, and for the environment.

Food with an Organic label means it was grown naturally the way nature intended it. When you buy organic foods, you don’t have to question it because organic farmers follow strict standards to grow the most natural fruits and vegetables possible. In the United States, for example, organic farmers don’t use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, hormones, antibiotics, sewage sludge, irradiation, or any genetically modified organisms. Consumers just look for the Organic label, and they are confident that stringent guidelines have been followed to bring to market wholesome natural products.

When you choose organic food, you help conserve the environment. For example, pesticides used in non-organic farming are wiping out entire species of beneficial insects, butterflies, and birds. On agricultural farms in the United States alone, it is estimated that about 672 million birds are affected by large amounts of pesticides, and about 10% of them die as a result of it. Meanwhile, the excessive use of chemical fertilizers on farms is contaminating the water supply through seepage into the water table and runoff from rainstorms.

The loss of soil fertility has also become a matter of concern due to chemical farming. In contrast, organic farming involves production methods that help conserve soil fertility and biodiversity. The use of organic fertilizers, compost, mulches, and other organic matter preserves healthy soil by supporting microorganisms in the soil as well as earthworms and red worms that aerate the soil. Mulches and organic matter also minimize weed growth. Multi-cropping, trap crops, and companion planting helps pest control.

Also, the low-till practice of organic farming helps prevent soil erosion by disturbing less soil. Since this practice reduces the amount of soil that needs to be cultivated, it is less energy intensive because it uses less oil.

In summary, organic farming uses ecological and biologically safe means to raise crops. By choosing organic food, you show that you prefer these environmental and sustainable systems while at the same time help improve your health.