- The Difference Between Organic And Non Organic Foods
- What is The Difference Between Organic and Non Organic Foods?
- Dangers of Non-Organic Foods Compared to Organic Foods
- The Difference Between Organic and Non Organic Foods: The Dirty Dozen ™
- The Difference Between Organic and Non Organic Foods: Dirty Dozen PLUS™
- The Difference Between Organic and Non Organic Foods: Clean Fifteen ™
- Is Organic Worth It?
- Organic VS Non Organic
- Garden Myths – Learn the truth about gardening
- Organic Seeds – What Are They?
- Organic Seeds Are More Robust
- “No Stinking GMO Seed”
- Pesticide Contamination of Seed
- Treated Seed vs Organic Seed
- Support Organic Farmers
- Seed Videos:
- Organic vs. Non-organic seeds
- More Choice for Farmers in a Changing Climate
- Healthy People and Planet
- A Solution to Corporate Control
- A Thriving Organic Community
The Difference Between Organic And Non Organic Foods
We all want to provide the best and most nutritious food for our families along with minimizing or totally eliminating the toxins to which we are exposed. Grocery shopping can be difficult and expensive, especially if we are constantly worrying about whether we should purchase organic vs. non-organic foods. Let’s talk about the difference between organic and non organic foods.
I’m sure that many of you are like me and are a little skeptical of the crunchy, Yoga Mom, gluten-free, organic craze that we find ourselves in the middle of. So is organic worth it?
Let’s get to the bottom of the “organic” trend. What’s the difference between organic and non organic foods?
What is The Difference Between Organic and Non Organic Foods?
In my quest for the truth on the organic food issue, I soon found a raging debate about the difference between organic and non-organic foods that usually centers around these 3 concerns:
Chemicals in Organic vs Non Organic Food
In the words of the University of Arizona’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences: (1)
“Organic foods are defined as those foods that are grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, genetic engineering, pesticides, or drugs. Pesticides are chemical or control agents made to kill insects, weeds, and fungal pests that damage crops.”
Non-organic foods, therefore, are either directly manufactured with or are indirectly contaminated by synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, genetic engineering, pesticides or drugs.
Aesthetics of Fresh Produce
Many people argue that organic food looks and feels differently than non-organic food. They feel conventional food items almost look too “perfect;” whereas organic produce resembles the fresh fruit and veggies in your back yard garden with non-symmetrical shapes, varying colors and even some blemishes. Food Sentry offers one explanation why this is so:
“The short version is that much non-organic, unprocessed or minimally processed produce is treated with a variety of growth-enhancing substances and is also commonly subjected to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grading and quality standards (voluntarily), while organic produce is not.” (2)
We cannot prove whether or not this is true, but it does give some credence to the Ugly Food Movement, doesn’t it? (3)
Nutrition Quality of Organic Food
The Mayo Clinic claims that organic foods are not more nutritious than non-organic varieties. A recent study examined the past 50 years’ worth of scientific articles about the nutrient content of organic and conventional foods and the conclusion was that there was not a significant difference in the nutrient content. (4) Yet, this perspective isn’t supported by everyone.
The British Journal of Nutrition published a paper that evaluated 343 studies on the topic, and decidedly concluded that organic foods are truly the healthier option because they contain up to 69% more antioxidants than non-organic foods. (5)
Because of the importance that antioxidants have in the prevention and successful treatment of chronic illnesses – such as heart disease, neurodegenerative disease and cancer – this information should not be taken lightly. The study also showed that organic foods have considerably less cadmium (a toxic metal) and, of course, pesticide residue.
The important message is this: When you consider the amount of research that has been done pinpointing the specific dangers associated with eating conventional, pesticide-ridden foods, why would anyone purposely choose non-organic food if they were able to choose organic?
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Dangers of Non-Organic Foods Compared to Organic Foods
When we keep in mind that we are what we eat, it shouldn’t be a surprise to find out that the risks associated with pesticides are dramatic and widespread. According to a recent article in the journal IJRET: International Journal of Research in Engineering and Technology:
“The World Health Organization estimates that there are 3 million cases of pesticide poison in each year and up to 220,000 deaths, primarily in developing countries. The potential health effects of pesticides include asthma, allergies, and hypersensitivity, and pesticide exposure is also linked with cancer, hormone disruption, and problems with reproduction and fetal development. Children are at greater risk from exposure to pesticides because of their small size: relative to their size, children eat, drink, and breathe more than adults. Their bodies and organs are growing rapidly, which also makes them more susceptible; in fact, children may be exposed to pesticides even while in the womb.” (6)
Because of modern landscaping and farming practices, pesticides are so invasive that virtually no one is safe from them. How many of the above health conditions can be directly caused by eating non-organic food? No one knows.
A 2000 report from the Greater Boston Physician for Social Responsibility emphasizes that using organophosphates, especially around the home and at school, can put children in a dangerous situation. (7)
- Animal tests of pesticides belonging to the commonly-used organophosphate class of chemicals show that small single doses on a critical day of development can cause hyperactivity and permanent changes in neurotransmitter receptor levels in the brain.
- Chlorpyrifos (Dursban), one of the most commonly used organophosphates, decreases DNA synthesis in the developing brain, resulting in deficits in cell numbers.
- Another commonly used class of pesticides, known as pyrethroids, can also cause permanent hyperactivity in animals exposed to small doses on a single critical day of development.
- Impaired stamina, coordination, memory, and the capacity to represent familiar subjects in drawings were evident in children who had been exposed to a variety of pesticides in an agricultural community in Mexico.
Just imagine the consequences if we added non-organic foods to the mix! These are just the side effects of kids being exposed to pesticides on their playgrounds.
The Difference Between Organic and Non Organic Foods: The Dirty Dozen ™
Since it is impossible to avoid pesticide exposure entirely, it is very important to limit the exposure in our food supply. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has developed a list called the Dirty Dozen™ that helps consumers have full disclosure on the levels of pesticides in their foods, and which foods contain the most pesticides. (8)
7. Sweet bell peppers
8. Imported nectarines
10. Cherry tomatoes
11. Imported snap peas
This doesn’t mean that other non-organic produce items are not a problem. The point of this list is to highlight the significant dangers that these 12 foods contain.
The most notable findings according to EWG’s research were: (8)
- 100% of imported nectarines and 99 % of apples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue.
- Potatoes have more pesticides by weight than any other food.
- Grapes contain up to 15 pesticides.
- Celery, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas and strawberries showed 13 different pesticides apiece.
The Difference Between Organic and Non Organic Foods: Dirty Dozen PLUS™
During the third year of the EWG’s listing research, they expanded their Dirty Dozen list by adding a plus category to document these additional food items: (8)
“The two foods that contain trace levels of highly hazardous pesticides. Leafy greens – kale and collard greens – and hot peppers do not meet traditional Dirty Dozen™ ranking criteria but were frequently contaminated with insecticides that are toxic to the human nervous system. EWG recommends that people who eat a lot of these foods buy organic instead.”
At the rate that food manufacturers are going, you can only guess how long this list will stay to just 14.
The Difference Between Organic and Non Organic Foods: Clean Fifteen ™
On the other end of the spectrum is what the EWG calls “The Clean Fifteen,” fresh fruits and vegetables that are the least likely to contain significant pesticide residues. (8)
2. Sweet corn
5. Frozen sweet peas
15. Sweet potatoes
Overall, these 15 foods can be eaten without worrying about harmful chemicals, which makes sense. Most of these foods have thick protective skin layers or shells, which naturally ward off pests. The others are buried deep in the soil and, as long as the soil isn’t irradiated with Round Up or some other harmful chemical, the fruit should be fine.
Some notable findings from EWG’s research on the Clean Fifteen: (8)
- None of the Clean Fifteen foods tested positive for more than 4 types of pesticides
- Avocados are the best, with only 1% of samples showing any detectable pesticides.
- 89% of pineapples, 88% of mango, 82% of kiwi, 80% of papayas, and 61% of cantaloupe had no residues.
- Only 5.5% of the Clean Fifteen samples had two or more pesticides.
Is Organic Worth It?
We must be cautious when we shop for our groceries as these harmful pesticides can be hidden ingredients. As a consumer who is concerned with natural health and disease reversal, it is important to educate yourself on what you and your family are eating.
Although organic foods are more expensive and can be more challenging to find at the grocery store, buying organic is definitely the easiest decision you can ever make for you and your family’s health.
Remember to grow your own food as much as possible and join a local, organic co-op if you can. If you absolutely must purchase non-organic produce, stay away from the Dirty Dozen Plus 2 and keep in mind that organic grains, dairy and most other products are certainly the healthiest way to go.
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Ever wonder what the difference really is between organic vs. non-organic foods? Here’s everything you need to know about the two types of labels, as well as the positives and negatives that each bring to the (kitchen) table.
What is the difference between foods labeled organic versus non-organic?
At the very core of it, there is not a large difference between the two. They look very similar and most often taste very similar, too. Organic foods typically contain the same amount of nutrients, vitamins and minerals as non-organic foods. In order for a food to be labeled organic, the producer has to have the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) verify their growing practices and approve all of their production methods. Typically, foods that are organic contain fewer pesticides, fewer multi-drug resistant bacteria and no genetically modified organisms or foods.
What are the positives and negatives of buying organic or non-organic?
If you are concerned with how green you are being or how your actions impact the environment, organic foods have less environmental impact then non-organic foods. Additionally, organic foods have no added antibiotics, hormones or synthetic additives.
However, the negatives of buying organic may outweigh the positives for many families. What is the number one negative of buying organic? The price. On average, organic products are 47 percent more expensive than non-organic foods. This varies depending on the product and season, but if you buy organic, you are most likely going to pay quite a bit more. Another possible negative to buying organic is that you are subject to when each product is in season. Organic apple supplies disappear from grocery stores in late winter while non-organic apples may be overflowing. Produce is one of the main foods affected by the seasons, but some organic meats and eggs may be affected as well.
How does cost affect buying organic?
For non-organic, one positive is that you can typically stretch your dollar further than with organic foods. Additionally, you can find almost any type of food, produce or meat any time of the year, even if it is not in its peak season. One drawback to non-organic foods is that you may be consuming higher levels of pesticides, antibiotics or hormones, and your food may be coming from growing conditions that are not as highly regulated as organic products.
What does all this mean?
This does not mean that organic foods are necessarily better or healthier for you. If you shop at local farmers markets, ask your farmer what types of fertilizers and growing conditions are used. Even if he or she has not paid to be certified organic, they may be using fewer pesticides or green growing conditions. This is one way to still have produce or meat that is close to organic without paying the higher price.
Non-organic produce and products are not the only source of pesticides in our daily life. Even if we bought only organic, we would encounter pesticides on recently sprayed grass, in the air we breathe, and in the soil and dust. It is nearly impossible to reduce our pesticide exposure to absolute zero.
Do you recommend organic or non-organic to parents?
I recommend that all children consume at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. If buying organic would mean they only have one serving of fruit or vegetables due to the higher price, then I would recommend buying non-organic. If your family is on a tight budget, avoid reaching for the organic products, and instead aim to meet the goal of five servings of fruits and vegetables with non-organic foods.
Try to include at least one fruit at breakfast, one serving of vegetables at lunch, and two servings of vegetables at dinner to help meet fiber and vitamin/mineral needs and fill up bellies with the healthy stuff! To make five servings, consider offering fruit as a snack. These can be non-organic or organic, as long as they are being provided.
Buying organic vs non-organic
There are some fruits and vegetables that are known to have high levels of pesticides and fertilizers. If you want to choose a few things to buy organic, the Environmental Working Group releases a list every year of 12 foods containing the highest level of pesticides and 15 foods that are the lowest in pesticides. The top five of the “dirty dozen” or high-level foods for 2017 are strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples and peaches. The top five of the “clean fifteen” or lower-level foods this year are avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage and onions. If you wanted to pick and choose which foods to buy organic, these may provide some insight.
Organic VS Non Organic
A scientific paper published in the British Journal of Nutrition shows that there are significant composition differences between organic and conventional crops (primarily vegetables, fruit and cereals) that are relevant in terms of nutritional quality.
It is the most up-to-date analysis of the nutrient content in organic compared to conventionally produced foods, synthesising the results of many more studies than previous analyses. The findings are the result of a ground-breaking new systematic literature review and meta-analysis by an international team of scientists led by experts at Newcastle University.
The entire database generated and used for this analysis is freely available on the Newcastle University website.
The main findings of this study were:
Organic crops are up to 69% higher in a number of key antioxidants than conventionally-grown crops. Numerous studies have linked antioxidants to a reduced risk of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases and certain cancers
Less Toxic Metals and Nitrogen
Significantly lower levels of toxic heavy metals in organic crops.
Cadmium, which is one of only three metal contaminants along with lead and mercury for which the European Commission has set maximum permitted contamination levels in food, was found to be almost 50% lower in organic crops than those conventionally-grown.
Less Pesticide Residues
Conventionally grown fruit had by far the highest frequency of pesticide residues, about seven times higher than in organic fruit. In conventional vegetables and crop-based processed foods the frequency of pesticide residues was three to four times higher than in organic.
Prof Leifert also added: “This study should just be a starting point. We have shown without doubt there are composition differences between organic and conventional crops, and now there is an urgent need to carry out well-controlled human dietary intervention and cohort studies specifically designed to identify and quantify the health impacts of switching to organic food.”
What is evident from these types of studies is that fresh is always best. It is difficult to know where your food is coming from and what nasty chemicals it is exposed to. This is not always the easiest information to source! Where possible shop organically and locally to ensure you are getting exactly the right nutrient, minus the chemicals!
If you cannot afford organic produce, what are the best options to have and steer clear of?
Source: EWG’s 2015 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™
Garden Myths – Learn the truth about gardening
Lots of people are looking to buy organic seeds but as a chemist this has never made any sense to me. I started asking people on social media for their reasons for selecting organic seeds over conventional seeds or heirlooms seeds. The answers clearly indicate that people don’t understand why they want organic seeds, but one valid reason did emerge.
In this post I will look at the reasons people give for buying organic seed and discuss the validity of the reasons.
Burbee organic seeds
Organic Seeds – What Are They?
What are organic seeds, and how do they differ from conventional seeds or even heirloom seeds?
Organic seed is seed that is produced by organic gardening/farming methods. These are the same procedures used to produce organic food. In order to be be certified organic, they must be produced by a certified organic operation.
Some people claim that organic seed ” has not been exposed to any chemicals throughout the growth in the field”. Rubbish! Organic farmers use organic chemicals and in some cases these are more dangerous than conventional chemicals. Organic chemicals can be used in larger quantities than in conventional farming because they are less effective. Organic seed is not free of chemical contaminates. It’s chemical contaminates are organic chemical contaminates.
Wild collected seed is not considered ‘organic’ because it was not produced by an organic farm. That makes no sense to me! By not introducing wild seed, this practice has people growing a limited gene pool. This goes against the organic principles – but not against organic certification.
Heirloom seeds can be grown in any kind of condition, organic or non-oganic. Heirloom describes the genetics of the seed, and usually refers to older varieties that are stable and field pollinated. They are available as both regular seed and organic seed.
Organic Seeds Are More Robust
Seeds of Change, a pro-organic group, claims “Organically grown seed produces hearty, robust plants already adapted to organic growing conditions” (ref 1).
That’s a silly statement. Seeds and plants do not know they are being grown organically. Seeds are not ‘adapted’ to organic conditions. The genetics of the seed does not change after growing plants organically for a few years. Good quality seeds from organic farms or conventional farms will grow equally well in your soil.
Are organic seeds more hearty, or more robust? Nonsense. The contents of a seed, and how well it grows is determined by it’s genetic makeup, and to a minor extent, how well the mother plant was grown. Small unhealthy plants will produce poor quality seed in both organic and conventional fields. Quality seed companies will only sell quality seed – organic growing conditions have nothing to do with it.
It is quite possible that organic seed is not as good as conventional seed. As pointed out by Seed Testing International (ref 3) growing quality organic seed can be difficult due to extra pest pressures. “Quality standards for some organic seed, especially biennial seed such as onion, carrot and cabbage, has been reduced. ”
“No Stinking GMO Seed”
One of the most common reasons for buying organic seed is that gardeners, and I quote, “don’t want no stinking GMO seed”.
The reality is that a lot of people are against GMO, and most of them have no idea why.
Being against GMO is no reason for buying organic seed because GMO seed is NOT available to home gardeners. Even if you want to get some, you can’t. GMO seed is sold to farmers after they have signed an agreement which controls how they can use the seed. Seed companies will not sign such an agreement with home owners.
Besides the unavailability issue, almost none of the seed types home owners buy are available as GMO seed. Corn is the only exception. This will change over time as new seed types come on the market.
GMO is not a reason to buy organic seed.
Pesticide Contamination of Seed
Conventional farming uses chemicals which are not approved by organic farming. In most cases these are safer than the chemicals used in organic farming, but that is a topic for another post. What happens to these chemicals – organic and non-organic?
Plants are sprayed as they grow. Most of the sprayed pesticide either washes off or degrades over time. By the time seed is harvested, very little of the pesticide remains, but there can be residual amounts of systemic pesticide in the seed. There is a standard for this called the International Maximum Residue Limit, or MRL for short. Wikipedia lists a number of chemicals and their MRL, with limits of 0.05 to 7 mg/kg of seed. I believe this is for seed that we eat as food and not for seed that is used for planting, but it gives us a ball park idea of possible pesticide levels.
Let’s consider this example. Assume some tomato seeds have a chemical residue at the 1mg/kg level – an average of the above range. One Kg of tomato seed contains about 300,000 seeds. If seed contains pesticides at 1mg/kg, a single seed contains 0.000003 mg of pesticide.
What happens to the pesticide in the seed? Most of it will be discharged from the plant, or metabolized in the plant. But lets assume the worst case, and that none of it is lost. Then all of it would be dispersed throughout the plant. As cells grow, some of the pesticide would travel from old cells to new cells.
What does a tomato plant weight? I have seen numbers like 30 pounds but to be conservative lets assume our plant is small and weighs only 10 pounds, including the fruit. When the fruit is ready for harvest, the 0.000003 mg of pesticide will be spread throughout the plant. An average tomato weighs 100gms, so it will contain 0.00000006 mg of pesticides. Compare that to the fact that we eat 1,500 mg of natural pesticides every day.
That is a silly calculation! But not nearly as silly as the belief that the pesticides in seed make a difference.
A self proclaimed organic seed expert: Phil Winteregg (ref 2) says, “we have separate stainless steel equipment dedicated to handling the organic seed, as well as ..untreated, so that the potential of cross-contamination … is nearly impossible.” Clever marketing that makes absolutely no sense for organic seed!
Treated Seed vs Organic Seed
What is treated seed? Some seed, like peas and beans have a tendency to rot in wet soil. Treated seed has a coating of anti-fungal and anti-bacterial chemicals that reduce the chance of rotting. In a few cases the seed may be coated with an insecticide but these are usually not available to home gardeners.
This is a different situation from the previous section. Treated seed has the chemical coated right on the seed, and you can easily see it. If you handle the seed, the pesticide powder does end up on your hands.
How safe are treated seed? You should not eat them, and it is wise to wash your hands after handling them. Most of the coating on seeds will wash off with rain or be degraded by soil microbes. Any that is absorbed by the seed will be in very low levels in the food you harvest. Calculations are similar to the ones above, except you do start out with a higher amount of pesticide. Food produced from treated seed is perfectly safe to eat.
Lets say you decide you don’t want treated seed. Do you need to buy organic seed? No. Most seed that is available to home gardeners is not treated. Treating seed costs money, and if seeds have been treated, companies advertise the fact so that they can charge more for the seed. In most countries, the labeling laws require seed producers to identify treated seed right on the seed package.
I checked Burpee Seeds and they do not sell treated seed. Stokes does sell some but the selection is very limited and the treated seeds are clearly marked in their catalog.
If you don’t want the chemicals found on treated seed, just buy regular seed. You do not need to be organic seed.
Support Organic Farmers
That leaves me with one valid reason for buying organic seed – to support organic farmers. If you feel growing organically is important for the environment and you want to support organic farmers, then buy organic seed. It does support the organic movement.
Buying organic seed, does not produce healthier food, does not make plants grow better and they do not reduce your exposure to chemicals. They don’t even produce better tasting food. If you are going to buy them, you should at least understand why you are buying them – you are supporting organic farming.
Selection is limited for organic seed. Most of the new disease resistant vegetable cultivars are not available as organic seed, and neither are most ornamental flowers.
Personally, I would not go out of my way to buy organic seed when non-organic is just as good. I’d much rather have newer disease resistant tomatoes.
If you like this post, please share …….
Organic vs. Non-organic seeds
Another great question came in to Ask Gardenerd:
“I don’t understand what the difference is between organic seeds and
regular seed packets. Are there any benefits of purchasing organic
seeds? Can I buy regular seeds and just grow them organically with the
The short answer to your question is yes, you can essentially get the same results with regular seeds as with organically grown seeds. Here, for the record, is the difference:
Organic seeds are just that – organically grown. In other words, they are grown using sustainable methods from start to finish. No pesticides, no chemical fertilizers, all on land that has been cultivated for at least 3 years using the standards established for Certified Organic farming. Farmers grow flowers and veggies in this fashion and then let the plants “go to seed”, which produces the seeds that come to us in packets.
Regular seeds have been grown and harvested from plants that were treated with pesticides and fertilizers on land that was not necessarily cultivated in a sustainable way, and therefore have an environmental impact as such.
The bottom line is that it’s really up to you. In our world, it’s really hard to be completely sustainable without a lot of effort, but there are things we can do to lighten our load. A lot of people buy organic produce, or purchase carbon offsets for vacation trips. Others bring canvas bags to the grocery store or buy recycled products. Buying organic seeds is just one more way of supporting sustainable practices at production level.
That said, sometimes companies can’t afford the organic certification, but they usually state in the opening pages of their seed catalogues that they grow seed without chemical pesticides or fertilizers. I will back these companies just as I would a certified organic company. I’ll go so far as to say that as long as a seed company has a holistic approach to providing seed (small family farms are most often good for this), then you probably can’t lose.
I hope this helps clear up the confusion. Thanks for writing in. Happy gardening!
Seed is too often overlooked as a fundamental piece of our food and agricultural systems. Yet this tiny resource has enormous impacts on how we farm and what we eat. When farmers plant their seed each spring, they rely on the genetics contained within to help defend those plants from pests and diseases, and to withstand weeds and weather. In fact, organic farmers rely on seed adapted to their specific farm conditions and climates more than other farmers because they don’t use synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.
Seed also largely dictates the quality of our food – from appearance to flavor to nutritional content. In this way, seed holds endless potential for transforming our food system, especially when coupled with the principles that built the organic movement – the principles of health, ecology, and fairness.
Currently, the dominant seed system is controlled by a handful of chemical and biotechnology companies with no genuine interest in the success of organic agriculture. These players abuse intellectual property rights and fiercely protect them. They discourage farmers from participating in research and seed saving. And too often they put shareholder interests before those of the greater public.
The organic community has an opportunity to create a path for organic seed that’s very distinct from the dominant seed system. By establishing a shared vision and roadmap for developing organic seed systems, we can avoid the negative trends seen in the conventional seed sector while delivering high-quality organic seed for all regions, crop types, and farm scales. Organic Seed Alliance’s State of Organic Seed project helps monitor the progress we’re making in achieving this goal.
Demand for organic food is only growing, with sales toppling $39 billion in 2015 (an 11% increase compared to 2014). Organic farmers are required to use organic seed unless it’s commercially unavailable. The organic seed industry was almost non-existent when the federal organic standards went into effect in 2002. As State of Organic Seed, 2016 shows, the organic seed supply isn’t keeping up with broader organic industry growth, as most organic farmers still rely on conventional (non-organic) seed for at least part of their operations.
The good news is that we’re seeing progress in increasing the availability, quality, and integrity of organic seed available. (See Key Findings.)
As important are the many benefits organic seed provides — benefits that go well beyond helping organic farmers meet a regulatory requirement.
More Choice for Farmers in a Changing Climate
Plants bred under organic conditions have the potential to be better adapted to these production systems. Organic farming challenges can be quite different from conventional systems, where synthetic chemicals and nutrient sources are commonly used to control pests, diseases, and plant nutrition. Seed provides the genetic tools to confront these day-to-day challenges in the field, and breeding plants in the environment of their intended use benefits this process.
Furthermore, adaptation is key to achieving resilience in our food and agricultural system. Adapting seed to changing climates, resource availability, and environmental conditions is one way to mitigate risks for farmers and the food supply they serve. This resiliency is longer lasting when more organic farmers have the skills to further adapt and improve plant genetics through seed saving and on-farm breeding.
Seed therefore represents profound potential for improving our food and agricultural systems. The plant genetics contained within a seed can determine if chemical controls will be necessary for dealing with production challenges (we can adapt seed to naturally resist disease). Genetics can also determine the security of our food supply (we can adapt seed to warmer and dryer conditions), how input-dependent crops are (we can breed for water use efficiency); and the quality of our food (we can breed for improved nutritional content).
Healthy People and Planet
Organic seed also benefits our environment. Agriculture brings the interconnectedness of natural systems and human activity into sharp relief. The way we farm has a huge impact on our environment and human health. Most US agriculture relies intensively on synthetic pesticides that are almost entirely produced from crude petroleum or natural gas products, and that have harmful impacts on human health and the environment.
Conventional seed is typically produced in chemical-intensive systems. Not many farmers, let alone consumers, think about their “seed footprint” – that there are negative byproducts to consider even before a seed is planted. Crops grown for direct consumption, such as vegetables, are typically harvested before they go to seed. Crops grown for seed remain in the ground longer to complete their reproductive cycle. This extended growth means there are more opportunities for pests and diseases to damage seed crops. Pesticide regulations often allow higher applications of chemicals on non-edible crops, including crops produced for seed. Therefore, when farmers (and gardeners!) choose organic seed they are choosing to not contribute to this upstream pollution caused by conventional seed production.
A Solution to Corporate Control
Organic seed reduces organic agriculture’s reliance on a seed industry based on proprietary control and chemical-intensive farms. Organic seed systems – when viewed as an alternative to the dominant seed system – help address bigger problems in agriculture.
Expanding organic seed systems can also increase economic opportunities for farmers who successfully produce organic seed on their farm. The economic benefits include selling organic seed commercially, becoming more seed self-sufficient and reducing input costs, and reducing financial risks by having seed that’s better adapted to their farm. Farmer involvement decentralizes how organic seed is bred, produced, and distributed, and expands the diversity of seed grown and available.
A Thriving Organic Community
The expansion of organic seed systems has been coupled by a growing diversity of stakeholders involved in their development. For example, more chefs, retailers, and food companies are involved in variety tastings and evaluations, identifying organic seed and food market gaps, and even in organic plant breeding projects. This diversity of decision makers fosters a participatory and decentralized nature to organic seed systems that results in varieties with aesthetic and culinary qualities desired by consumers while also addressing the agronomic challenges of organic farmers.
Organic seed systems – when viewed as an alternative to the dominant seed system – help address bigger problems in agriculture. Join us in advancing organic seed as a solution to these problems to ensure a healthier food and farming future.