Increasing public concern about the quality of the foods we eat has led to dramatic increases in the number of consumers searching for healthier options. Those concerned with the potential health risks associated with eating genetically modified foods contaminated with chemical pesticides, growth hormones, or antibiotics are selecting organic products.
Whether you live completely organically or are investigating the benefits of reducing your exposure to potentially harmful substances, consider these four lesser-known facts about organic farming.
#1. Organic Certification Takes Time and Commitment
That green certification seal commonly found on organic products is not easy to come by. Achieving organic certification involves much more than simply cultivating pesticide-free crops or feeding livestock organic grain. Once a farmer decides to make the transition to organic, the certification process can take several years and a considerable amount of commitment.
To display the organic seal, food must be cultivated in a manner that meets the US National Organic Program (NOP) standards. While regulated by the federal government, certification is conducted by an accredited agent. Farmers must follow strict guidelines throughout every step of cultivation and provide documentation of their practices for review. Once certification is achieved, farmers must be recertified annually. Just a few of the regulatory requirements that must be upheld include:
Committing Up to Three Years in Advance - To qualify for certification; farmers must develop a plan for environmentally sound practices and work their farm without using prohibited substances for 36 months.
Designating a Boundary – Organic farmers are required to establish a buffer zone around their farm large enough to prevent non-organic contamination from adjoining properties.
Adhering to Sustainable Practices – Organic farmers must cultivate their crops and raise their livestock using renewable, sustainable practices to conserve soil and water while enhancing environmental quality.
Testing Soil Before Planting – To ensure crops are planted in soil that meets organic standards, soil is tested prior to planting. Inspectors may also request soil, product, or tissue samples without prior notification to ensure consistent standards.
Providing Documentation – Every action involved in organic production requires documentation so agents can confirm standards are being maintained. Every crop, every animal, has a "paper trail" during their lifecycle. Farmers must demonstrate administrative capabilities before they can be certified.
#2. Organic Farmers Are Allowed to Use Certain Approved Pesticides
Many people believe organic foods are grown without the use of pesticides. This is not entirely true. While achieving organic certification means that farmers adhere to specific standards, it's the government that determines which substances are banned or allowed.
In general, organic farmers rely on natural fertilizers and manage pests with traps and beneficial insects. However, there are a significant number of natural or synthetic chemicals approved by the USDA for organic farming. The National Organics Standards Board (NOSB) reviews and modifies the list as needed. NOSB decisions are based on the following criteria:
- Known effects on human health
- Overall compatibility with sustainable agriculture
- Toxicity of the substance
- The impact on the ecosystem
- Potential for environmental contamination during manufacturing
- Risk of environmental contamination during use and disposal
- Potential to interact with other commonly used materials
- The availability of preferable alternatives
#3. Organic Farming Conserves Natural Resources
While many people choose organic foods because of the benefits to their overall health, far fewer realize the overall impact that organic farming methods have on the environment. The National Organic Program (NOP) requires certified operations to maintain and improve the condition of our natural resources by protecting the soil, water, wetlands, woodlands, and wildlife in their area.
By conserving natural resources and improving soil and water, organic farming improves the overall resilience and stability of their business model. Just a few of the many ways organic farmers conserve and improve environmental quality include:
Several organic crops require less irrigation than crops grown conventionally. In addition to using less water for cultivation, organic farming reduces groundwater contamination and keeps toxins out of our rivers and streams.
Combatting Soil Erosion
Many people don't realize that it takes nearly a hundred years for an inch of topsoil to form. The chemical fertilizers used in conventional farming destroy healthy bacteria and leave excess nutrients that cause pollution. Conventional farming degrades the soil at least ten times faster than the soil rebuilds. Organic farming adds nutrients to the soil, and those nutrients nourish your food.
Our planet is currently losing its biodiversity at a rate of 1000 times higher than would occur in nature. The loss of biodiversity will have a significant impact on our ability to grow food. Organic food is grown harmoniously with nature and protects wildlife. On average, organic production results in a 30 percent increase in species richness over conventional farming methods.
#4. Animals Raised Organically Are Treated Humanely
While reducing your exposure to pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and genetically modified grains is important, many people choose to purchase organic meat simply because animals raised for organic food are treated humanely.
Raising animals organically reduces stress, reduces disease, and supports animal welfare. For organic farmers, animal welfare is a top priority. Organic farmers raise their animals without the use of antibiotics and hormones in conditions that far surpass the living conditions of livestock raised by conventional farmers. Just a few of the requirements to raise livestock for organic meat, eggs, and dairy products include:
- Accommodating the health and natural behavior of animals year-round
- Allowing access to the outdoors and providing space for exercise
- Raising livestock on certified organic land that meets all the standards of organic crops
- Raising animals on a diet of organic feed or grasses
While organic animals must be raised without growth hormones or antibiotics, that does not mean illnesses are ignored. If natural methods of curing illness fail, antibiotics are not withheld. An animal that requires antibiotics is no longer eligible for organic certification and is relocated.
Selecting the Highest Quality Organic, Grass-Fed Beef
When you see the term "organic," you know the agricultural products you select have been certified by an independent third-party agent to ensure farmers adhere to stringent requirements. In the US, cattle raised for organic beef are commonly fed a combination of grass, organic grains, or organic feed pellets.
Unlike a significant amount of the organic beef sourced in the United States, Cleaver's cattle are fed a diet of grass and natural foliage. A favorite in Australian Supermarkets, now you can order flash-frozen, vacuum-sealed Cleaver's steaks and beef for delivery in the US. Sourced from hand-selected family farms, Cleaver's organic cattle are raised humanely by farmers who value the highest standards of animal welfare.