The production, sale and consumption of organic food reflects both a concern for the environment and a concern for human health.
Food is certified as "organic" in the United States by the "National Organic Program" through the USDA when it is grown and manufactured in a manner that adheres to standards set in (NOP) standards .
For crops, it means they were grown without the use of conventional pesticides, artificial fertilizers, human waste, or sewage sludge, and they were processed without ionizing radiation or food additives.
For animals, it means they were reared without the routine use of antibiotics and without the use of growth hormones.
In most countries, organic produce must not be genetically modified.
As far as possible, organic farmers rely on crop rotation, integrated pest management, crop residue, compost and mechanical cultivation to maintain soil productivity and control pests.
Sales within the United States have grown by 17 to 20 percent a year for the past few years while sales of conventional food have grown at only 2 to 3 percent a year causing many larger companies to jump into the market.
Most processed organic food comes from large food conglomerates producing and marketing products like canned goods, frozen vegetables, prepared dished and other convenience foods.
Processed organic products usually contains only organic ingredients, or where there are a number of ingredients, at least a minimum percentage of the plant and animal ingredients must be organic (95% in the U.S.).
Any non-organically produced ingredients must still meet requirements. It must be free of artificial food additives, and is often processed with fewer artificial methods, materials and conditions (no chemical ripening, no food irradiation, and no genetically modified ingredients.
At first, organic foods consisted mainly of fresh vegetables.
Early consumers would look for chemical-free, fresh or minimally processed food. They mostly had to buy direct from growers.
Consumer demand for organic foods continues to increase, and high volume sales through mass outlets, like supermarkets, are rapidly replacing the direct farmer connection.
Supporters of organic farming claim that organic farms have a smaller environmental impact than conventional farms.
Several surveys and studies have attempted to examine and compare conventional and organic systems of farming. The general consensus across these surveys is that organic farming is less damaging for the following reasons:
Although Organic farming standards do not allow for the use of synthetic pesticides, they do allow the use of specific pesticides derived from plants such as; Bt, pyrethrum and rotenone, which can have high toxicity to fish and aquatic creatures with some toxicity to mammals including humans.
A 2001 study by researchers at Washington State University concluded, under judgment by a panel of tasters, that organic apples were sweeter.
Along with taste and sweetness, the texture as well as firmness of the apples was also rated higher than those grown conventionally.
These differences are attributed to the greater soil quality resulting from organic farming techniques compared to those of conventional farming.
Some studies have shown higher nutrient levels in organic fruit and vegetables compared with conventionally grown products. However, due to the difficulty with designing such experiments, the evidence is not considered conclusive.
A 2002 meta-analysis, which is a review of all past studies on the subject - found no proof that organic food offers greater nutritional values, more consumer safety or any distinguishable difference in taste.
While organic food accounts for 1 to 2% of total food sales worldwide, the market is growing rapidly, far ahead of the rest of the food industry, in both developed and developing nations. Organic food sales in the US have jumped from $23 billion in 2002 to $40 billion in 2006.
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