Celebrate Organic Month
September is Organic Month in the UK. The term ‘organic’ refers to a holistic system of farming that underpins the way food is produced. It is certified by law. Organic farming is designed to enhance the health of the soil, water and air. This makes it more sustainable than farming methods that instead pollute the soil, water and air. Given that the health of the soil, water, air, plants, animals and humans cannot be separated a farming method that looks after all of these is vital for the future of life on earth as we know it.
What Do Organic Farmers Do Differently?
- Create havens for wildlife by planting trees, having beetle banks and wildflower margins and digging ponds around their fields leading to a diverse habitat for bees, birds and butterflies. Plant, insect and bird life is 50% more abundant on organic farms. Given that 41% of Britain’s wildlife species have declined since 1970 and more than 1 in 10 are facing extinction the importance of farming in a way that allows wildlife to thrive is of utmost importance. Intensive farming practices, especially pesticide use, have been identified as the main driver of these declines.
- Organic farming uses virtually no pesticides, and the small number of pesticides organic farmers are permitted to use are based on naturally occurring substances. Instead beetles and birds feed on pests such as aphids and slugs. This means organic farms are havens for wildlife, providing homes for bees, birds and butterflies. Reducing pesticide use could slow or reverse the decline in insects.
- Ensure their animals have high welfare standards – organically raised animals are encouraged to forage, graze and roam and express their natural behaviours.
- Have smaller flocks and herds, and more access to the outdoors meaning organic animals don’t have to be routinely treated with antibiotics and wormers. Mutilations like beak-tipping to prevent the aggressive side effects of stress are not needed, or allowed.
- Do not use artificial fertilisers or nitrogen fertilisers which end up in the seas and rivers creating dead zones where life below the surface is deprived of oxygen meaning fish and other aquatic life cannot survive. Organic standards ban the use of these fertilisers.
- Do not use Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) – organic farming is opposed to GM for environmental, health and social reasons.
For a food product to be labelled as organic, every step in the supply chain, from farmers and packers to food processors and retailers who sell organic products, must meet organic standards and prove it to an organic certification body, such as the Soil Association. Food that is certified organic will:
- Contain fewer pesticides – making it better for your health and better for insects and pollinators. The majority of our food crops depend on pollinators. Without pollinators we would not have potatoes, strawberries, tomatoes, coffee, chocolate and many other foods.
- Contain fewer additives and preservatives
- Contain no hydrogenated fats, controversial food colourings, preservatives and sweeteners – such as tartrazine and aspartame.
- Not be washed in chlorine
- Contain no GM ingredients
- Are produced using fewer antibiotics – the overuse of antibiotics in human and animal medicine means they are becoming increasingly ineffective. Farming accounts for 30% of antibiotics used in the UK.
- Are from more resilient farms – in the face of changing weather patterns due to climate change the need for resilient and adaptable farming systems has never been greater. Organic farms store twice as much water in their soils which helps protect against flooding and drought. Organic farms are also more diverse meaning organic farmers are less dependent on the success of a single crop.
Organic Vs Veganism for the Environment
We need a radical shift in both production and consumption if we’re to avert the worst consequences of climate change. Eating a plant based diet is a good step towards reducing your carbon footprint. Ideally aim for a plant based and organic diet. It should also be noted that on some farms livestock grazing on pasture as part of organic and agroecological practices can improve soil health and carbon sequestration (capturing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil).
Organic Farming Can Feed the World
Many critics of organic farming say that the reduced yields on organic farms mean they wouldn’t be able to feed the world. It’s true that organic crops sometimes experience lower yields. But the problem with feeding the world is not that there is insufficient food produced it’s a problem of distribution, dietary choices and waste.
Studies suggest that if all the farms in Europe followed organic principles agricultural emissions would drop by 40-50% and there’d still be enough food to feed the population.