Organic food is a topic which is getting a lot of attention these days but it is something that is not as new as you might think.
In the simplest of terms almost all food is "organic" but when most people use the phrase "organic food" it is generally understood to refer to food which was produced using organic farming methods. The term "organic farming" dates back to the year 1939 when it was first coined by James Northbourne when he wrote a book called "Look to the Land," published in 1940. His idea was to describe farming which was a holistic and ecoligical in its methods, as opposed to what he termed "chemical farming."
These days virtually all foods which are labeled or sold as organic are subject to considerable government control and regulation. Processed foods may be organic, however they must contain no less than 95% of their ingredients must be organic and any contents which are non-organic are subject to strict controls. No artifical food additives may be included in organic foods, and even the processes of preparing the foods for sale, packaging and storage, such as irradiation, or ripening using chemicals are limited.
When people first started buying organic foods, customers would often buy directly from local farmers and growers who largely were uncertified and not regulated by government agencies but as the size of farms growing in this fashion has increased government inspections and certification requirements has become more wide spread.
The certification process is complex and costly, and can be particularly burdensome for small producers. Over and above the things a normal farmer does, a farmer who wishes to have his operation certified as organic must first study all the details of what they can and can't do not only in growing but in the storage, transporting and selling of their goods. They must make sure that all of their facilities and methods meet the standards which are set, and this often means they have to change their facilities, and maybe even look for different sources of supplies and other items. Everything must be rigourously documented, increaseing the time and amount of paperwork. They must make and submit a wrtten annual plan for their production showing everything from where they buy their seeds, to the locations of where they plant their crops, what kind and amount of fertilizers they use, how they will control pests, how they will harvest their crops and where and how they will store what they produce. Further to this they have to have at least one physical inspection of their farm every year and pay a fee to have this inspection performed. The cost of this inspection alone can be anywhere from $400 to over $2,000 each year in North America.
This process is not restricted to farms alone so if there are several steps between the producer and the consumer, each stage may be subjected to a similar type of inspection and control to determine whether ingredients, processing and handling methods and conditions, transportation methods and equipments, containers used for transport and handling, and so on meet specific requirements. Even a restaurant who wishes to be certified as serving organic food would have to be inspected and buy its supplies only from sellers who have been certified, too.
In the United States there are three types of organic foods which are legally established. Anything which is made with all its ingredients and production methods that have been completely certified may be sold as "100% organic." Anything which is at leat 95% organic may use the term "organic" and can use a USDA organic seal. (show) Other products which contain no less than 70% organic ingredients can be legally sold using the words "made with organic ingredients." Other countries have similar laws and limits for the sale of organic products to consumer.
There have been concerns that the production of organic foods is less efficient than conventional farming methods, however, some studies have shown that in developed countries, organic methods have reached an average of 92% of traditional ways. In some poor countries, it has been projected that organic methods could be even more productive because these communites do not have access to synthetic farming supplies and organic materials are easier to obtain.
One of the reasons why organically grown food has gained such popularity is the belief that it is considerably safer to eat than foods produced using chemicals, mostly because of lowered residues of pesticides. It has been shown without any doubt that these foods do have lower levels of pesticides, but critics point out that convential farming also produces food which is below levels which are considered safe by governmental agencies and that no scientific evidence exists to prove that there are increased risks of defects or diseases cause by these foods.
Some studies have been conducted in Europe to determine if organic foods produce better nutritional quality and taste than conventional methods. While more studies are underway to determine long term effects on health, the results of tests which have been completed so far show that some organically produced foods seem to have higher levels of certain vitamins and antioxidants, and lower levels of undesirable things such as heavy metals and pesticides, there has been no clear evidence that organic foods are providing more nutrition, less danger of health complications or any superior taste.
Currently organic foods cost between 10 to 40% more than foods produced using convential methods. According to government studies, an average person in the US spent $1,347 in the year 2004 for groceries. If this were converted to 100% organic products their annual cost of groceries would be increased from somewhere between $135 to as much as $539 each year, provided that prices did not increase due to higher demand. At the present time less than 3% of food sold in the world, organic food consumption is increasing rapidly. Between 2002 and 2008 the sales of organics nearly doubled to $52 billion and future growth is projected to be anywhere between 10% to as high as 50% each year, depening on which country is being measured.
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