Organic is sustainable
Tue, 6 Feb 1996 17:39:19 -0500
The organic/sustainble discussion is long overdue--thanks for the question!
Organic used to mean whatever you wanted it to, so it became necessary,
perhaps unfortunately, to create standards and certification in order to make
sure everyone knew what they were getting. Since organic now has a more or
less precise definition, "sustainable" agriculture had to be invented by
those who are more confortable with or have a vested interest in vague terms.
These are, typically,1.) academics and others who hestiate to make
decisions until "more research is done or 2). some farmers, ag dept officials
and businesses (repeat, *some*) who want to take advantage of increasing
citizen concern for healthy food and the environmental effects of agirculture
without really doing anything concrete about it. As Mr. Hall points out,
sustainable, lacking any real definition is simply what *I* do. We hear so
much about "sustainable" these days because conventional agriculture
interests are trying to regain the moral highground from organics but
diluting their credibilty. Personally, I think the term has outlived its
As a person involved in soil managment and organic ceritificaiton in Mexico
for many years, I find Mr. Hall's other comments rather perplexing. All
organic standards state, as central goal of organic farming, long-term soil
improvement (physical and biological), biodiversity conservation and the
general environmental care one would intuitively associate with the idea of
"sustainable agriculture". Any inspector who recommends certification of a
farm where he believes there is not at least a sincere effort being made to
meet those goals is violating all organic certification standards I know
about. Perhaps I didn't understand Mr. Hall's comments, but the notion that
rows crop are necessarily bad for soils or that mulching with herbicides is
better than organic mulching seems rather preposterous.
Finally, I am unaware of anything in the US regulations that would prevent a
certification organizations (and the consumers it represents) from
maintaining higher standards than the USDA. Its the consumers demand for
healthy food that will have the final word--the regulations and certification
only attempt to stop fraud.