While there have been varying notions of organic farming over the years, the growth of the industry and the introduction of standards and certification have led to a clearer definition in recent years. That definition describes organics as a viable agriculture, based on sound farming practices, that does not include synthetic chemicals.
Certified organic agriculture can be further characterized by a set of principles that include biodiversity, integration, sustainability, natural plant nutrition, natural pest management, and integrity.
These principles are expressed through the implementation of both traditional and cutting-edge farm practices.
As the organic industry continues to grow and evolve, it faces many challenges, including the consequences of its own success. Economic opportunities invite new players into the marketplace who may have little interest in sustainability or the positive social benefits many have come to associate with organics. This matter was touched on by rural socialogist Dr. William Heffernan. Dr. Hef-fernan has gained considerable attention in recent years for his insightful analyses of the causes and social consequences of the increased concentration and corporate control of the U.S. food system. In an interview published in Acres USA (38), he expressed the following regarding organic farming.
We are beginning to realize that up to this point we believed that organic was synonymous with family farms and we are finding out that is changing. In fact, the organic is going to continue to grow. That doesn't mean that it is going to support family farms the way it has in the past. With the whole organic movement, we assumed that the social would go along with the environmental movement, and what we are finding out is no, that is not necessarily true, and even what they do environmentally is questionable.
Whether certified organic farming will survive its own success and continue as a socially and environmentally responsible alternative, or merely become a parallel production system based on minimal compliance to standards, remains to be seen.
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