Organic farming has been one the fastest growing segments of agriculture in the U.S. and other parts of the world since the early 1990s.
“Organic” is defined by the USDA as food produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products must come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. The companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified organic too.
There is no question that people eating conventional food (vs. organic food) are more likely to be exposed to a wide range of synthetic chemicals, antibiotics and hormones, often on a daily basis. For many of these compounds, singly or in combination, there is very little data on the human health impacts of chronic, low-level exposure. Although there is quickly growing evidence of directly related health problems, more research must be done to determine the exact nature of the harm. This issue alone has lent growing worldwide support to organic methods. Organic farming methods have also been shown to be safer for the environment.
As more and more studies are demonstrating, organic, and various integrated and mixed farming systems, are capable of producing yields that approach, or even exceed, those of conventionally-managed systems, particularly during times of drought. And they can do so over large scales and with greater energy efficiency.
Organic agriculture is growing very rapidly in industrialized countries as consumers are increasingly interested in buying food free of pesticides and other chemicals. But it may have its most important application in developing countries, particularly as the costs of fossil fuels, and the fertilizers and pesticides derived from them, continue to escalate, and as we enter a world where droughts are increasingly common and where water for irrigation is at a premium.