The word organic extends a promise of a food that is natural, pure, and brimming with healthy nutrients. And the benefits extend well beyond the quality and taste of the food on our table. Conventional chemical agriculture depletes our dwindling oil reserves to an astonishing degree, while boosting greenhouse gases. The amount of oil used in agriculture, including that used to make chemical pesticides and chemical fertilizers, is about the same as the amount used in all of the automobiles in the country.1 Organic farming is a method that honors our health and the health of the planet.
The criteria required in order to wear the organic label have been established and standardized by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Organic fruits and vegetables are grown in fertile soil teeming with life. Organic farmers follow earth-friendly cultivation practices, adopting techniques that utilize, as far as possible, renewable resources. This produce is grown and processed without any toxic pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, chemical fertilizers, or genetically modified seeds (GMOs).
About 99.5 percent of U.S. farmland—almost 800 million acres—is still stuck in the heavily chemical agricultural system of the post–World War II twentieth century.2 This system pollutes our air, water, soil, wildlife, and ourselves with chemical pesticides, while depleting our oil reserves at an alarming rate. Organic meats, eggs, and dairy come from animals that are kept according to strict standards, fed only organic foods, and raised without antibiotics, growth hormones, or cloning.
Organically raised animals are treated in a way that protects their natural development and behavior. For example, as recently as World War II, most American eggs came from local backyards and barnyard flocks. Today, more than 98 percent of the 345 million laying hens in the United States live out their lives in stacked rows of tiny wire cages. Their beaks are often trimmed to prevent them from harming themselves or others when jammed so closely together. In 2005, the United Egg Producers, in response to public concerns, recommended a gradual increase in cage space for each adult Leghorn, the most common breed, to 0.47 square feet. By comparison, an 8.5 x 11 sheet of notebook paper is 0.65 square feet—30 percent bigger than the new “humane” goal.3
Organic laying hens, however, are given room to walk around and lie down. Their beaks may not be trimmed. As another example, dairy cows get at least four hours of exercise a day, and during the growing season grazing animals must have access to pastures that are not treated with toxic herbicides or other chemicals. Such animals are fed organic feed that does not come from genetically modified seed. In short, the animals are raised in a healthier and more humane manner.