Organic - for a Healthy Lifestyle & Sustainable Future
Organic farming and organic processes are about working with natural inputs to the farming process and using as little as possible of anything that will cause adverse environmental impact.
A key principle in organic production systems is to direct farming activity at improving the soil humus content so that plants and animals are being provided with an abundance of naturally occurring nutrients rather than water soluble elements.
Organic farmers, orchardists and live stock producers grow and produce food to strict national standards without using synthetic chemicals (such as pesticides or artificial fertilisers). They do not use genetically modified (GM) components or expose food to irradiation.
Australians buy organic food for health, ethical and environmental reasons, believing the food is better for your health and that the farming practices are better for a sustainable future.
Animal welfare and environmental sustainability are important issues for organic farmers. The term ‘organic’ can also cover animal products. For example, eggs certified as organic are free range, rather than from caged (battery) hens (caged battery hens can require antibiotics to sustain disease free production) and the food fed to them is also produced "organically" to national certification standards..
The range of organic produce produced under the organic certification scheme in Australia include fruit and vegetables, dried legumes, grains, meat and meat products, dairy foods, eggs, honey and some processed foods.
The Fundamentals of Organic farming
Organic farming is a philosophy and a way of life. Animals raised using organic methods are managed in accordance with the same certification standards which are aimed at maintaining a natural balance in farming without the use of chemical fertilisers and artificial or GM inputs in their feed, but there is also a strong ethical component in the standards regime which guarantees certified "organic" livestock are treated humanely and with respect. For example, chickens are free range and not kept in cages, and cows are not kept in the cramped and disease prone conditions of feed lots which require the administration of antibiotics to fight the diseases that occur in these unnatural conditions. Under a certified organic farming regime, animals are also not fed any growth-regulating drugs, steroids, hormones or antibiotics. However, the animals may be treated with vaccines to prevent disease.
Organic farming is also equally concerned with protecting the environment and working in harmony with existing ecosystems, including conserving water, soil and energy, and using renewable resources and natural farming cycles. Traditional pre-industrial farming methods are often used, such as rotating crops to prevent depleting the soil of nutrients.
Pesticides and other chemicals in organic food?
Because of the pervasive effects of "conventional" farming practices on wide swathes of Australian agricultural land, organic foods are not necessarily completely chemical free as an unfortunate result of this historical use of farmland. Pesticide residues can remain in soil for decades. Farmers transitioning from conventional farming practices can face circumstances where "organic" food must be grown on land which might still contain traces of chemical residues. Organic farms undergo regular soil tests with a zero tolerance policy for such chemical residues in the soil. However if chemical residues from conventional farming in soils are in a low range, then farmers are given the chance to develop scientific strategies to mitigate and reduce the effects of these historically occurring residues over time, and a program of soil regeneration will be undertaken. Therefore, whatever the history of the land, once entering a certification scheme, there will be a focus on improvements to the soil as a major part of the process. The minimal pesticide residues in organic food are therefore at worst significantly lower than those found in foods produced by conventional agribusiness farming practices, which by contrast use increasing amounts of synthetic chemical fertilisers and growth hormones to force feed crops and take an approach that attempts to lower production costs and improve yields by combating insect pests and competing weeds using industrially produced pesticides and herbicides which pose significant danger to human health.
Certain naturally occurring pesticides, including pyrethrins, light oils, copper and sulphur, and biological substances such as Bacillus thuringiensis, are permitted for use in certified organic farming.
Organic food is a growing industry
With increasing awareness of the importance of food quality and diet in personal health, and a growing consciousness of the fragility of our natural environment, consumer sentiment has matured and the Australian organic food industry is growing exponentially. It currently has a value to the economy of around $200–$250 million per year domestically and a further $50–$80 million per year in exports, with an expected annual growth of up to 60 per cent. In 2010, the retail value of the organic market was estimated to be at least $1 billion and the industry has boomed in the intervening years.
Informed consumer demand for organic food is growing at a rate of 20–30 per cent per year, with retail sales increasing at a massive 670 per cent between 1990 and 2001–02. It is estimated that more than six out of every ten Australian households now buy organic foods "occasionally", reflecting a widespread awareness of the value system embodied in the certification scheme.
Reasons to buy organic food
The typical organic consumer buys organically-grown food products because they have concerns regarding additives, pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, or other artificially produced chemical residues. Although pesticide residues in fruit and vegetables are monitored in Australia, many people believe organic food is healthier.
Organic food and nutritional content
Several studies have compared the nutritional content of organic and conventionally grown plants, and most have shown no significant differences in overall vitamin and mineral content. However, although the differences are small, research has shown that some organic food has:
- Lower nitrate levels
- Higher vitamin C levels
- Higher levels of selenium
- higher levels of anti-oxidants
The ethics of Organic food
Organic food production techniques promote more humane treatment of animals, as well as providing meat that is free from hormones and antibiotics that can be passed on to the consumer. Also, there is a key concern among organic consumers about the long-term health, economic and environmental consequences of GM foods. They choose organic foods in support of an industry that does not use GM techniques believing these pose possible unforeseen dangers to the long term health of the environment and the gene pool of traditional foods.
Organic farming is better for the environment
"Organic" methods of food production promote healthier and more sustainable use of natural resources. Modern "conventional' farming methods, including excessive use of chemicals, which has led to a measurable decline in soil fertility, and an increase in salinity and blue-green algae in waterways over the decades since these techniques became acceptable and common. Organic farmers try to minimise damage to the environment by using manual labour to addressweed control, and animal and green manure.
Organic food retail outlets
You can buy organic food from:
Some supermarkets including the major duopoly
Some smaller green grocers
Health food shops
Some fresh food markets
Certified organic retailers.
The most common resistance encountered by organic producers is price driven. Costs are higher in organic farming. Organic food is often therefore more expensive than conventionally-produced food. This is because organic farming generally operates on a smaller scale, production is more labour intensive and, without herbicides, pesticides and other chemicals, yields are generally smaller.
Australian studies have shown consumers are willing to pay a premium of up to 15% for organic foods because of the perceived health and environmental benefits.