What is 'Organic'?

The Definition of ‘Organic’

Organic is a term many consumers are familiar with these days as it is now widely used both in the media and in shops and supermarkets, but not all understand exactly what it means. The essence of the word ‘organic’ means that something is produced without adding to the structures essential nature. The living structure (plant or animal) is pure.

In reality, this means not interfering with the plant or plant material and allowing its natural pattern of growth to take its course, with nothing added: no non-organic fertilizers or chemicals, or re-structuring of the plants DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid), or genetic modification, as in the term GM (a genetically modified food).

An Organic System

Farming, Food, People and Environment To farm organically, a farmer realises that the soil they use must be treated with respect and allowed to use and retain nutrients, without the addition of harmful additives and pesticides. Nutrients and some fertilizers can of course be organic, but there are hundreds of chemicals of all types and purposes available to farmers throughout the world – and most of these are known to have some kind of long-lasting detrimental effect, somewhere along the food chain.

Pesticides may prevent pests, and other chemicals may prevent a certain disease affecting a specific type of agricultural plant, but ultimately any chemical that is added will change the soil composition, certainly affect the growing seed or plant, and quite possibly leach into the water table under the soil layer. These chemicals are known to affect wildlife who come into contact with them, the wider environment (think of polluted streams and rivers as just one example), and ultimately, humans.

Links between human health and the poisons that we put into the atmosphere and environment – like nitrates in exhaust fumes, and pesticides and fungicides in non-organic agricultural practise are now known to be responsible for many illnesses. Rachel Carson’s highly influential book, ‘Silent Spring’ (1964) almost single-handedly kick-started the twentieth century environmental movement because of her findings about the impact of pollution on the environment and ourselves.

What Can the Term ‘Organic’ be Applied to? This word organic can be applied to any living thing, be it plant or animal, if it is grown (or reared in the case of animals) organically, according to the definition given above. Certain other conditions apply to animals raised organically, but the principles of no invasive additives and un-adulterated growing conditions still apply.

High standards govern both organic crop farming and livestock raising (for producing organic meat) and act as both guidelines for farmers, and as legal safeguards for the consumer. Since interest in organic produce has grown and the organic marketplace has blossomed, many farmers and producers have started selling produce and products they label as ‘organic’, but are not necessarily produced under the rigorous standards that organic farming standards require. Consumers should be vigilant and always check whether the goods they buy are organically certified. This safeguards them, and helps to ensure that the organic food industry remains ‘purely organic’.