Conventional vs. Organic Farming Series, Part IV: Know Your Organics (Certification and Other Issues)

organic farmer in asiaBuying organic food is a great way to support the health of the soil and wildlife. Also, many select organic food for being more beneficial and nutritious to themselves and their family. But the true significance of organic farming is that supports a long-term environmental sustainability.

For concerned consumers a range of issues comes into play when choosing organic foods. And, particularly so if they want to extend the impact of choices they make beyond the walls of their own households. So here comes the last part of the series conventional vs. organic farming. In the final part I list issues that are worth considering in regard to organic farming including the issue of certification.

Certified organic farming is a recognition of organic produce by way of certification or labeling. Organic certification allows for the development of alternative goods on the global market and gives the power of choice to consumers. It is also considered an indicator of quality. Certified organic farming products challenge conventional farming products in local and global markets, even though the organic production levels are significantly lower than the conventional.

Non-certified organic farming is a term for farming systems that are based on principles and practices similar to certified organic agriculture. These products do not carry a certificate such as USDA Organic in the US or eco-label in the EU. Certified Naturally Grown is an example of labeling program for small farms in the US that are not a part of the USDA Certified Organic program. Non-certified organic products are not targeted at the distant sale of certified products but are based at local consumption and close relations between producer and consumer.

organic farming and certification

Organic farming has environmental consequences too. Organic products were formerly produced and distributed locally. As markets for organic products have grown, the range of organic items demanded have increased. This has moved organic products beyond local, seasonal and bulk towards a broad selection of tropical products, counter-seasonal produce, processed foods and so on.

As the organic farming products are being increasingly processed, packaged and transported long-distance, the environmental effects need to be dealt with. For instance, “Food miles” is a measure of the increasing transportation of organic food that captures the distance food travels from producer to consumer. It is be important to distinguish between organic products that can be produced locally and those that cannot when measuring and analyzing food miles.

Organic farming is a free market player. Global markets are characterized by the dominance of large corporations in transportation, distribution, promotion and sale. When organic products enter the contest with conventional products they face the financial circumstances and pressures that are characteristic of a free market system. In such a system organic farming is not immune to pressures to mask information on the production process, to create appealing stories with no valid background and employ fake labeling of products. All of this creates a danger of pushing organic systems in the direction the conventional model, with farm extension and well-defined specialization, export-oriented rather than local and increasing capital intensification.

Small organic producers may be marginalized by larger producers. Smaller alternative producers are increasingly being marginalized by larger organic producers who, in terms of production and marketing methods, act like conventional producers. The goal is to compete directly with large and intensively capitalized producers in the similar produce and customer markets. Supermarkets are stocked chiefly on the basis of price, quality, range, volume and availability. Therefore, they look for big quantity providers that can maintain supply at favorable prices all through the year. In the US, Italy and Germany supermarket sales make up 30% of organic sales.

“Pesticide-free” is not “non-certified” organic by default. Not all farming systems that skip synthetic pesticides and fertilizers can be considered “non-certified organic”. Many farming practices can be environmentally unsustainable and degrading to the soil even without the use of synthetic pesticides.

organic farming produce

Non-certified organic is beneficial for low income countries. In low-income countries with food production based on subsistence farming, local food markets and localized systems with low-yielding agriculture, “non-certified organic farming”, has the capability to present higher, more constant yields than the conventional agriculture. These systems are based on local natural resources and knowledge inputs.

Non-certified organic faces smaller risks of globalization. Namely, these systems may be even more in harmony with the initial organic principles and beliefs than certified systems. This is because the certified ones face direct pressures of market competition and globalization that pressure them to move towards conventional systems. Non-certified organic farming systems also face smaller risks of environmental external costs and “unfavorable” dependence on sources of finance and agricultural multinational corporations.

Non-certified organic has strong ties with the community. The philosophy and qualities of non-certified organic farming systems promote community sustainability and food security. Reciprocally, communities can promote non-certified organic farming systems through various localized food system models, such as local community networks, self-sufficient family or community farms and local markets.

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