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"Going Organic" New Year's Resolution May Do More Harm Than Good

Tim Boyer's picture
Organic Food

Is Going Organic your New Year’s Resolution this year? Are you motivated to not only eat healthy, but also help the environment by purchasing and cooking only food products that are labeled organic? According to recent news reports, going organic is not as simple as it sounds and that by doing so you may be actually contributing to a non-organic way of life with your “Going Organic” New Year’s Resolution.

The American ideal of traditional organic produce was that the crops were grown in the absence of pesticides and chemicals, and that they would be grown on environmentally friendly, small local farms. However, as demand by consumers for organic produce has increased, so has the threat to what people would consider to be truly organic. In truth, organic is much more than the lack of pesticides and chemicals—it’s also about the environment.

According to the USDA’s National Organic Program, “Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.”

What is Organic Food

In order for a product to be labeled “organic” it must be verified by a USDA certified agent as to the fact that the product does indeed meet organic standards set by the USDA. The basic standards for meeting the requirements of an organic label include:

• For organic crops—that irradiation, sewage sludge, synthetic fertilizers, prohibited pesticides, and genetically modified organisms were not used in the creation of the crops.
• For organic livestock—that the producers met animal health and welfare standards, did not use antibiotics or growth hormones, used 100% organic feed, and provided animals with access to the outdoors at least part of the time and not housed in pens for the duration of their lives.
• For organic multi-ingredient foods— that the product has 95% or more certified organic content.

For most consumers, the three aforementioned standards are what differentiates something organic and sold by their grocer from something that is not organic and sold by the grocer. However, while these standards meet one part of the American ideal of organic food, it does not take include the other ideal whether or not the food was actually produced on small local farms and in environmentally conscious manner.

According to recent news reports, much of what your grocer has labeled as organic comes from large, distant farms—both national and international—that are using farming practices that are harmful to the environment. One example of harmful practices includes overplanting of fields without using crop rotation practices to re-nourish nutrient-depleted soil.

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According to the USDA’s National Organic Program, soil fertility and crop nutrient management must include:

• The producer must select and implement tillage and cultivation practices that maintain or improve the physical, chemical, and biological condition of soil and minimize soil erosion.
• The producer must manage crop nutrients and soil fertility through rotations, cover crops, and the application of plant and animal materials.

Another detrimental farming practice is exhausting water supplies such as natural aquifers in order to water organic produce in regions that are essentially desserts. Exhausting water supplies in regions where available renewable resources of water are limited can hardly be considered an environmentally friendly farming practice.

However, this does not mean that there is no hope for a truly organic way of life with your “Going Organic” New Year’s Resolution.
In the film “What’s Organic about ‘Organic?’” the public is given the message that organic foods goes beyond personal choice and eco-label shopping, and more into the arena of social responsibility and ecological consciousness.

According to the filmmaker, Shelly Rogers, an experienced documentary filmmaker who according to her bio maintains an urban existence in New York City by growing vegetables on her fire escape and composting her kitchen scraps, “This film will show audiences that the decisions they make in the grocery store and the policies set by our government should not be just about personal preference, but they should embody a means of supporting an agricultural system that produces healthy food, develops market opportunities for regional food systems, and safeguards our environment for future generations.”

To accomplish your resolution goal this New Year, the makers of “What’s Organic about Organic?” encourage people to become “Food Citizens” and to start thinking about the broader implications of our food choices by acknowledging and embracing your personal responsibility to society. To get started as a Food Citizen, they suggest that you integrate the following measures into your life:

• Increase Your Awareness of the externalization of costs in conventional food production
• Grow Your Own organic food
• Find a Farmer
• Join a CSA—Community Supported Agriculture
• Compost your food scraps
• Eat organic/local/sustainably-produced food
• Join a community garden
• Talk to your child’s school about local school food initiatives, school gardens and get involved

The key to truly going organic with your New Year’s Resolution this year means seeing beyond the food on your table to the fields where the produce originated by educating yourself on what going organic really means on both a personal level and a societal level. To learn more about organic living, go to the “what’s organic” movie website Whatsorganicmovie.com and make “learning something new” part of your New Year’s Resolution.

Image source of Organic Food: Wikipedia
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