Organic food is food grown in ways complying with the strict standards of organic agriculture. Standards differ around the world, but organic agriculture has standards that center on the cultivation of crops according to their natural growth patterns and biodiversity, both of which are threatened by modern industrialization. Sustainable agricultural practices include soil fertility management, conservation of insect populations, proper use of chemicals, renewable plant materials, and access to energy.
The food industry has become increasingly aware of the need for sustainable practices. Organic food sales have increased dramatically over the past few years, driven by consumers’ concerns for the environment and health. Consumers are turning to organically raised and processed foods and are supporting organic production by purchasing local and organic milk, eggs, meats, and dairy products. Increasing demand has also meant that farmers have had to expand their production areas, resulting in soil erosion, soil pollution, increased air and water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions.
In an effort to preserve the integrity of organic foods, many countries have introduced mandatory certification and standards for organic foods. These measures have resulted in fewer farm productions of conventional and genetically modified (GMO) foods. In response to this challenge, some farmers have begun to grow and sell off organic foods that have already been inspected and certified as meeting the minimum organic agricultural standards. Others have chosen to supplement their local organic market with organic products sold off the more expensive organic farmstand.
To comply with the organic seal, organic foods must meet specific organic production and handling criteria. While most organic foods are produced in the same way (according to organic agricultural principles), not all organic foods are created equally. Some organic foods are free from pesticides and herbicides, while others are heavily treated with them. Organic seal certification ensures that organic foods are free of Bt toxins and lead, as well as other potential health risks.
Organic dairy products may contain hormones or growth hormones, such as bovine growth hormone (BGH). BGH is a form of artificial hormone that is made in cattle by breeding them in captivity. Regular cows produce a hormone that stimulates the pituitary gland to secrete a high concentration of BGH. Over time, this can increase cattle’s size, but also their fat content, energy levels, and general health. Because of this ingredient, a few concerned consumers have called for a ban on BGH for products that claim to be organic.
Organic food products do not need to be organically raised or fed, as they are generally grown on a farm using organic farming methods. Organic foods are grown using pesticides, herbicides, and various other chemicals do not meet the same rigorous standards as naturally grown foods. Organic food products may be grown using synthetic fertilizers or even in landfills. They may not be processed at any one planthouse or at the factory as organic foods. The lack of processing means that harmful chemical residues are present in organic foods, which may be absorbed into consumers’ bodies when consumed.
Organic food comes from many different sources, including crops that are grown without using synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or other chemicals. Many organic foods come from organically-farmed animals, including dairy products that are raised without feeding antibiotics. Cows, sheep, chickens, and alfalfa are commonly used in organic dairy farming methods. Organic chicken and eggs come from chickens that are not confined to cages or intensive feeding programs. In addition, organic meats come from free-range animals that are not injected with antibiotics.
While there is a lack of certification for organic food production methods, many retailers of organically-grown foods offer it. Some of the larger grocery stores and national chains offer organic groceries. Many smaller local retailers, farmers’ markets, college campuses, colleges themselves, and health food stores sell organically-grown produce.