Friday, September 16, 2005

The Organic Movement

Kate Costello

As a model for our carbon neutral certification program, we chose to examine the organic food movement. These two topics are in fact quite similar and not just in the fact that they are both certification projects. World Book Encyclopedia defines organic agriculture as "the practice of raising crops without the use of synthetic chemicals." It is considered the more ethical alternative and also focuses on replenishing the soil, usually through the use of crop rotation. The organic food movement was reintroduced in Germany in the early 1900s. You may ask, why reintroduced? Organic history dates back to the beginning of agriculture, when the first person planted a crop as a food source or domesticated the first animal. Similarly, in early human history trees offset our carbon outputs, though without conscious effort.

There were several founders of this movement. Philosopher Rudolf Steiner, declared that humans were part of a larger web and should be in balance with nature. In the 1920s, H. Pfeiffer incorporated this into agriculture and developed the field of biodynamic agriculture. This then spread throughout Europe, specifically to Switzerland, the Netherlands, Denmark and England. Meanwhile in Switzerland, H. Muller, a politician, realized the potential advantages of this setup. He aimed to reduce the number of steps between food production and consumption. Hans Rush, of Austria, who focused on utilizing renewable resources, aided this foundation.

The Soil Association was established in England during the 40s to replenish the soil and restore the damage done by agriculture. This group was governed by a piece written by Sir Albert Howard, about sustainable agriculture and living in harmony with the land. They were the first group of this kind and paved the path for the organic movement.

During the 50s, this movement spread to France, where physicians promoted it as a healthier option than less sustainable agriculture. The economical benefits and the realization of environmental benefits began the fast growing trend. In the 70s, the movement spread to the United States, although efforts had been going on in Europe for quite some time.

The oil crisis of 1973 was a major factor in this, promoting conservation and a more ecological outlook on life. This gained momentum as there was a movement to "return to the earth" and people were seeking alternative lifestyles.

The raised awareness set-up an array of organizations dedicated to promoting ecological agriculture. The Soil Association established the first formal organic certification program, with a logo to ensure quality and verify that the produce being grown within specific standards. The International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM) was formed, combining the local establishments to guarantee worldwide standards.

In the 70s, The United States first organic certification group was developed, the California Certified Organic Farmers, and Oregon-Washington Tilth Organic Producers Association. Small farmers whose goal was to provide healthier foods by not using pesticides and chemicals set up these programs. The large food companies were not involved in the initial development of the organic market.

The use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers was greatly impacted by WWII. The new technologies that were used as weapons in the war were adapted to benefit agriculture. If you think about it this way, it is no great wonder why conventional farming is so environmentally destructive. This also began the process of spraying fertilizers from planes.

Unfortunately, the intent of the original movement in the United States is beginning to change directions as the larger companies have begun to look at organic food as a new market to increase their profits. By the year 2010, it is estimated that 10% of American agriculture will be headed to the organic market. Large corporations own more and more of the companies that carry the organic label. General Mills owns Muir Glen, Kellogg owns Morningstar Farms and Kashi, Philip Morris/Kraft own Boca Foods, Unilever owns Ben and Jerry's, to name a few. Hopefully, there will be a way to steer the focus back towards providing healthy foods, rather than being run by the giant corporations whose bottom line is making money.


Guide to Organic Farming-The Lifeblood of the Earth, MHR Viandes

Organic Farming Compliance Handbook- Brief History of Organic Farming and
the National Organic Program, Brian Baker

The Organic Foods Movement- Led by Heinz Corporation or We the People,
Paul Cienfuegos

World Book Encyclopedia-Organic Farming$3113463.htm


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