Does Organic Really Mean ORGANIC?

The term “organic” seems to carry a great deal of weight for consumers in health food stores, and increasingly, in supermarkets. Organic products include those foods grown and produced without the use of synthetic fertilizers or genetically modified organisms, as well as those meats, eggs, and dairy products coming from animals that have been raised without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones. While it is often believed that organic foods are safer and better, it is important to understand the actual implications of the term “organic” in relation to consumers’ conceptions of it.

Organic or Not Organic?

In order to be considered organic, the National Organic Program states that a food must meet USDA-established certification standards and must follow strict guidelines that are meant to ensure that the contents of the food should be 95% or more certified organic (not containing synthetic substances) and processed without the use of irradiation or genetic engineering. Many studies have been conducted to help researchers understand the long-term health consequences of organic and non-organic foods, although several of these studies present conflicting conclusions of the health outcomes for consumers of either. Many of those who live and die by organic foods are mistaken, however, in their beliefs that organic food is always better for the environment and free of pesticides.

Environmental Sustainability

For regular consumers of organic foods, environmental sustainability is a major reason for their decisions to purchase such goods. The National Organic Program itself even states that a goal of the program is to work toward systems and practices that minimize impacts on the environment. However the general belief that farming practices and production of organic foods are better for the environment because of a reduction in pollution and soil erosion, as well as the absence of pesticides, is one that is somewhat fallacious. Other factors involved in making organic goods are found to have downsides in regards to the sustainability of the environment, such as the reduced productivity of organic farming practices. Organic farming requires a greater amount of land than conventional farming to produce the same amount of food, making organic farming only about half as productive as its counterpart.

Dr. Hanna Tuomisto, a head researcher at Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), notes that many pieces of published literature have recorded that the impacts of organic farming were actually more detrimental to the environment, including one study by Dennis Avery of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Global Food Issues who estimated that if the world were to switch to organic farming, 10 million square miles of wildlife habitat and forests would need to be cut down to make way for the farmland, as opposed to the 15 million square miles that has been saved by conventional high-yield farming.


Many organic farming trade and advocacy groups stress the belief that organic foods are preferable to non-organic foods because of the lack of pesticides used in their production. However pesticides are actually used by farmers raising organic produce, including some that are harmful to consumers in accumulated amounts. Some “organic” pesticides are grandfathered in to modern regulations, and thus are not subject to the same stringent safety standards as other pesticides. These include the use of rotenone, a pesticide that is used to kill various species of insects, which is classified by the World Health Organization as “moderately hazardous”, as it is toxic in large amounts to mammals and aquatic animals. In addition, copper solution are used as pesticides and unlike biodegradable pesticides, copper never loses its toxicity within the soil, leaving it subject to harmful runoff into neighboring water at any time. These copper compounds are also, in large quantities, able to cause diseases of the liver, kidney, and blood.

Amit Gangrade is from Orlando, Florida and is a professional blogger for New Urban Farms. He is a recent alum from the University of Florida, where he studied anthropology and Spanish, and will be attending law school in the fall of 2014.