<< The short answer is that sustainability is a goal, but has no specific
standards or requirements to define what is and what isn't. Organic is a
specific set of practices that aim at sustainability. In 1994 we drafted a
statement of principles for organic production entitled "Moving Towards
Sustainability," which I would be happy to forward to anyone
I must be reading this wrong. The original question was how does *sustainable*
farming differ from *organic* farming. Organic and sustainable were both
adjectives used to describe a method of farming. Allow me to explore the
various permutations and combinations of these two farming methods:
Not organic and not sustainable: sounds a lot like "modern" agribusiness.
Organic and not sustainable: sadly, this is possible. Depending on how you
define organic, you can have varying levels of sustainability. By the way,
sustainability in farming is not an abstract concept. How about: sustainable
farming practices are those that produce foods that maintain the health of the
plants, animals, soils, water, and humans in perpetuity. How you define health
dictates whether the farming practices are sustainable. So let's try health as
defined as being free from disease and disease symptoms, parasites, pathogens,
etc. without the use of therapeutants or chemicals. To our modern day society,
this sounds like a pipe dream. We cannot imagine that health is achievable
without the use of a drug or chemical. To a great extent, the perversion is
that our adulteration of the soil is at the root of most of our health
problems. Unfortunately, we have sunk to the level of thinking that disease is
inevitable and that salvation comes from a new drug or chemical.
Not organic but is sustainable: theoretically this is an oxymoron. However, if
you corrupt the definition of organic and/or sustainability sufficiently, this
is certainly possible.
Organic and sustainable: if we ever get to the point of producing foods that
maintain the health of the plants, animals, soils, water, and humans in
perpetuity as defined above, we will find that this method of farming is truly
sustainable. Whether we call it organic or biodynamic, or whatever, we will
find that there is only one true way of farming.
Now for the big question that has baffled everyone. How do you know if a given
farming method is the right one? Try this test: Get rid of pesticides,
herbicides, antibiotics, Integrated Pest Management, drugs, etc. If the crops
and animals (and humans who eat these) are not devastated or sickly, you know
that your farming methods are correct. The crops and animals will have passed
Nature's Q.C. test. If the farming methods are wrong, Nature sends in the
recycling troops in order to prevent the crops or animals from being consumed
higher up on the food chain.
How about it USDA: if you want to get the organic regs right, why not set up
some test plots and try out various farming options. If they pass Nature's
Q.C. test, you know you have the right regs. Rather than debate the regs for
the last 7 years, we could have had a vast wealth of farming data from 7
consecutive growing seasons.
Let's get away from semantics and definitions and get back to simple concepts.
The merits of a farming method are to be seen in the health of the
environment, the plants, the animals, and humans. Given the level of
medication and disease in this country, I would say that we have some room for
improvement. Rather than debate the issues on paper, let's get out in the
fields and find the answers.
Alan Ismond, P.Eng.
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