Why Organic Food Isn’t My Gold Standard

May 13, 2024

By Sarah Griffiths, DCH

In 2024, the term “organic” has become synonymous with healthy eating and environmentally friendly practices. Unfortunately, when it comes to assessing the “healthiness” of our food and its impact on the planet, the organic label is losing its significance. It has also become unobtainable for many lower income households since it is extremely expensive to maintain the certified organic licensing – the cost of which is passed on to the consumer. You shouldn’t need to be rich to eat healthy food!

In this article, we’ll discuss why organic isn’t always the best indicator of food quality or sustainability and why biodiverse farming methods such as permaculture and growing/foraging your own food offer a more nutritious, ethical and ecologically sound approach when it comes to growing vegetables, fruits and meat. We’ll also cut out all the noise about healthy eating and come back to the reality of what it really means to have a healthy diet – for you, your pets and your horses.

Organic vs. Biodiverse Farming: The Environmental Perspective

While organic farming avoids synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, it doesn’t necessarily prioritize soil health or biodiversity. Many organic farms still rely on monoculture practices, which can deplete soil nutrients and lead to erosion. In contrast, biodiverse farming, such as permaculture, emphasizes building healthy soil through techniques like crop rotation, companion planting, and minimal tillage. This not only preserves soil health but also promotes biodiversity by creating habitats for various plant and animal species.

According to a study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, biodiverse farming systems can sequester significant amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, helping to mitigate climate change. Compared to conventional monoculture farming, biodiverse systems have been found to store more carbon in the soil, reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations highlights the role of agroecological practices, including permaculture, in enhancing resilience to climate change while promoting sustainable food production.

Animal Welfare and Sustainable Livestock Farming

When it comes to animal agriculture, organic certification primarily focuses on what animals are fed and the use of antibiotics and hormones. However, it often overlooks the living conditions and welfare of the animals themselves. Biodiverse farming systems, on the other hand, prioritize the well-being of livestock by providing them with access to natural habitats and rotational grazing. This not only improves animal welfare but also enhances soil fertility and reduces the need for external inputs.

A study published in the journal Nature Communications compared the environmental impacts of different livestock farming systems and found that biodiverse grazing systems can sequester carbon in soils, offsetting methane emissions from livestock. This highlights the potential of regenerative livestock farming practices to mitigate climate change while improving soil health and biodiversity.

Nutritional Value and Food Quality

Beyond environmental sustainability, biodiverse farming also leads to higher-quality food with superior nutritional value. Food grown in biodiverse systems, such as food forests and permaculture gardens, tends to be richer in essential nutrients due to the diverse range of plants and microbes present in the soil. Research published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture has shown that fruits and vegetables grown in biodiverse environments contain higher levels of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants compared to those grown in monoculture systems.

Conclusion

While organic certification has its merits, it’s not the ultimate measure of food quality or environmental sustainability. Biodiverse farming methods like permaculture offer a more comprehensive approach that prioritizes soil health, biodiversity, animal welfare, and nutritional value. By shifting towards these regenerative practices, we can not only improve our own health but also mitigate climate change and promote a more resilient food system for future generations. There is no greater contribution to animal welfare, to the environment and to your family’s health that you can make than by supporting these farming practices. It will support a shift away from the industrialized food agriculture matrix for the betterment of all living things.

If you are interested in the ethics surrounding the welfare of domesticated food animals, the health of our ecosystems and bettering the nutrition of your human and animal family members, it’s time to change our priorities: from certified organic to biodiverse farming practices.

References:

  1. Smith, P., et al. (2007). “Greenhouse Gas Mitigation in Agriculture.” Environmental Science & Technology, 41(10), 3939–3946.
  2. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2018). “Agroecology and the Sustainable Intensification of Agriculture.” FAO.
  3. Bajželj, B., et al. (2014). “Importance of Food-Demand Management for Climate Mitigation.” Nature Communications, 5, 4850.
  4. Smith, L. G., et al. (2018). “Meta-analysis of Carbon Sequestration Rates in Mediterranean Soils Under Conservation Agriculture.” Journal of Environmental Management, 206, 715–729.
  5. Hunter, M. C., et al. (2017). “Agroecology Increases Food Crop Yield in Rainfed Sub-Saharan Africa: A Meta-Analysis.” Journal of Sustainable Agriculture, 41(8), 855–873.
  6. Kooten, O. van, et al. (2018). “A Comparative Assessment of the Environmental Footprint of the American Livestock Industry.” Environmental Research Letters, 13(4), 044024.
  7. Gleason, K. L., et al. (2016). “Biodiverse Perennial Cropping Systems Enhance Carbon Sequestration in Temperate Agricultural Soils.” Environmental Science & Technology, 50(20), 11097–11105.
  8. Sánchez-Moreno, C., et al. (2011). “Highly Antioxidant Food Plantations: The Case of Diverse Tropical Fruits.” Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 91(4), 554–561.