Organic farming offers choice: an alternative to conventional agriculture and an alternative for you at point of purchase. Sold fresh, frozen, and canned, organic products have grown in quality, availability, and popularity! And they're often a good option.
Pesticide-free? Maybe and maybe not. Organic farmers may use insects and crop rotation to control pests that damage crops. Certain insects, for example, are natural predators for other insects that cause crop damage. Or farmers may use chemicals found naturally in the environment, such as sulfur, nicotine, copper, or pyrethrins, as pesticides. When these methods don't work, organic farmers can use other substances (biological, botanical, or synthetic) from a list approved by the National Organic Program of the U.S.
Department of Agriculture. To compare, pesticide levels with conventional farming are set low, so they're not harmful to health; see "Pesticides: Carefully Controlled" earlier in this chapter.
With organic farming, manure, compost, and other organic wastes fertilize crops; there are some allowed synthetic fertilizers. The soil is also managed with crop rotation, tillage, and cover crops. Organic fertilizers are effective, yet plants can't distinguish them from synthetic fertilizers. Both types of fertilizer break down in the soil to nurture growing plants.
The criteria for organically raised livestock and poultry and for animals raised for milk and eggs are equally stringent. From the last third of gestation, or for poultry, the second day of life, animals are fed only 100 percent organic feed, and they must have outdoor access and be humanely treated. Although vitamin and mineral supplements are allowed, hormones for growth and antibiotics are not. Any animal treated with medication can't be sold as organic.
Despite common perception, no conclusive scientific evidence shows that organically produced foods are healthier or safer. Both approaches—organic and conventional farming—supply nutritionally comparable foods. Climate and soil conditions, genetic differences, maturity at harvest, and the way food is handled—not the type of fertilizer—affect the nutrient content of raw foods.
How do taste and appearance compare? Studies show no significant flavor difference between organically grown and conventionally grown foods. Instead, taste differences appear to come from the food varietal, its growing conditions, and its maturity at harvest time. Most of today's organic foods compare very favorably in appearance with conventionally grown foods.
Organically produced foods often cost more. That's usually due to higher production costs (more labor, more management intensive, more crop losses, and smaller farms or yields). In the future, costs may go down as organic farmers develop more cost-efficient techniques and farming systems and get larger yields.
On a large-scale basis, today's organic farming alone can't produce enough food for the world's exploding population. However, more large food companies now offer organic options. The marketplace does offer many choices if you prefer organically produced food.
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