Organic vs. Conventional: What's the Difference?

Organic vs. Conventional Farming


Organic vs. Conventional Farming

The debate between buying organic food over conventional food is nothing new for the consumer food market, but there are a lot of factors the majority of people often do not initially consider. Which farming practices produces the most influence on our health, environment, and the economy? Before exploring the relative impacts of organic vs conventional farming, it’s worth clarifying what they actually mean.

Organic Farming

Organic farming refers to agricultural products that have been grown and processed according to the standards set by government agencies. In order to be certified organic, farmers must go through tedious and thorough inspections to ensure all practices are up to par. The inspection involves going over cleaning, pest control, and storage methods to confirm producers cycle resources, promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity. However, organic does not necessarily mean “chemical-free” due to the same challenges conventional farmers face like weeds and insects. The natural-based chemicals approved for organic crop production must be approved by three different organizations: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), The Organic Materials Review Institute, and The Washington State Department of Agriculture. The EPA considers all organic-approved substances as safe, and consuming organic food reduces dietary exposure to toxic pesticides by 98%.

Conventional Farming

Conventional farming uses farming methods that contain synthetics and chemicals to maintain their crops. Farmers use synthetic chemicals for production because they generally show larger growth and stronger durability to pests and weeds. Since conventional farming production costs are low, farmers are able to produce more crops and offer more job opportunities as a result. The EPA has little oversight regarding sustainability, allowing the legal levels for chemical/pesticide residues at unacceptable rates. Applying these chemicals to crops at such alarming rates in the fight against crop loss raises large concerns for the environment and consumer health.

The Problems Within The Systems

The big difference between the two farming methods is that conventional farming has a highly mechanizes approach and relies on chemical inputs for production. Organic farming is approached holistically, which actually contribute to the ecosystem as a whole. However, some large-scale organic farms still use industrialized approaches that run the risk of toxic pesticides and fertilizers seeping into surrounding soil and groundwater, contaminating their products. On the other hand, some conventional farms also adhere to organic principles, using limited amounts of chemical inputs.

The organic movement began in early days of industrial agriculture, in response to the shift toward conventional farming methods with excessive use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Several organizations and individuals began promoting organic farming methods in the 20th century, challenging government agencies on the detrimental effects the chemicals used has on the environment and human life. Although organic farming practices protect the environment from synthetic unregulated chemicals, there are issues in the production process. To produce large amounts of organic food, you need a much bigger area of land. Because potent synthetic pesticides are not used to protect crops from pests and disease, often times crops will become infested or sickly, leading to a massive economic loss. Another large criticism is based on a loophole within the certified process governed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Companies and suppliers create fraud documents and certifications to bypass the tedious and lengthy process. Fraudulent organic products overwhelm the agency’s system, get overlooked, and are distributed into the market. The National Organic Program has not been able to keep up with the growth of demand for organic food and products. Not only is the system in place completely outdated in technology and resources, but review processes by the USDA often are neglected or dismissed.

Despite the issues among organic farming, there are larger environment and health costs that exist in conventional farming. Environmental damage like land degradation, pollution to waterways, and over-irrigation are all clear examples of problems within more industrialized farming. Synthetic chemicals and pesticides are derivatives of fossil fuels, including oil and natural gasses. The use of fossil fuels is the reason the earth is experiencing dangerous environmental changes, like climate change. In addition, the chemicals used in conventional agriculture have been shown to bioaccumulate in the human body, and have long-term effects on health. Different studies have concluded that exposure leads to multiple forms of cancer and can provoke endocrine disruption. Pesticides used in conventional farming not only affect our health, but wildlife, beneficial insects like bees, water quality, and air quality as well. Read more about pesticides here.

These trade-offs can make it difficult to decide whether consumers should be purchasing organic or conventional products. Organic farming proves to be the better and safer option regarding its impact on the environmental and human health. However, it’s not always necessary. There are various methods to lighten the load of toxic chemicals entering your body, like cooking methods or washing produce properly. When it comes down to it, it’s all about the supplier’s commitment to sustainability. Sourcing your food from producers who hold high standards in farming approaches and methods is what's going to make the biggest impact on the environment and on your health. Testsharing gives consumers like us the ability to check our food for harmful toxins and look beyond the label.

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