September 2022
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Understanding Organic?

The way we farm and eat can make a world of difference. Organic is an ‘agroecological’ farming system that offers many benefits.

By opting for organic next time you shop, you’re helping support a way of farming that:

1. Is better for the planet

Designed to respect nature and to enhance the health of soils, water and air, organic farming is leading the way in sustainability.

In fact, if Europe’s farmland all followed organic principles, agricultural emissions could drop by 40-50% by 2050, with plenty to feed the growing population healthy diets.

Organic farmers are encouraged to ‘close the loop’ on their farms, making use of what’s to hand and limiting the use of imported resources.

This means:

No artificial fertilisers

  • Organic farming lowers the risk of environmental pollution and helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions by severely restricting the use of manufactured chemical fertilisers and pesticides, which come from burning fossil fuels.
  • Instead, organic farmers must use build fertile soils naturally, using compost and manure (often sourced from their own farm or local herds), and rotate their crops to keep soils healthy.
  • Synthetic nitrogen fertilisers are also responsible for an increase in nitrous oxide in the atmosphere, a greenhouse gas which is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
  • Healthier soils, that store more carbon
  • Soil is one of our most important tools in the fight against climate change – there are 2,500 billion tonnes of carbon stored in the world’s soils! That’s more than in the plants, trees and the atmosphere combined.
  • Organic farming creates healthy, living soils by nourishing them with compost, nitrogen-fixing crops, and crop rotations. As a result, organic farmland stores (or ‘sequesters’) more carbon – on average 3.5 tonnes extra for every hectare), and organic soils are around 25% more effective at storing carbon in the long-term.
  • Instead, organic farmers must use build fertile soils naturally, using compost and manure (often sourced from their own farm or local herds), and rotate their crops to keep soils healthy.

2. Has higher welfare for farm animals

Ensuring all animals reared for meat and animal products have a good life is at the heart of Soil Association standards.

Organic farming has the highest animal welfare standards of any international farming system; this means truly-free range animals, encouraged to forage, graze and roam, with plenty of space, fresh air, and conditions that allow them to express their natural behaviours.

Smaller flocks and herds, and more access to the outdoors means organic animals don’t have to be routinely treated with antibiotics and wormers, and mutilations like beak-tipping to prevent the aggressive side effects of stress are also not needed, or allowed.

3. Is better for nature and wildlife

Organic farms are havens for wildlife and provide homes for bees, birds and butterflies. On average, plant, insect and bird life is 50% more abundant on organic farms, and there are around 75% more wild bees on organic farms. There are a number of reasons for this.

Organic farmers use fewer pesticides

Organic farmers rely on a whole ecosystem to keep pests under control, where animals like beetles and birds feed on pests such as aphids and slugs.

If pesticides were substituted for more sustainable farming practices like organic, this could slow or reverse the decline in insects!

Land use on organic farms is more nature-friendly

Did you know? For every 10% increase in bee-friendly habitats – like that found on organic farms – bee numbers and diversity increase by over a third!

Because organic farmers rely on healthy ecosystems to control pests and protect their soils, they tend to farm in a way that encourages wildlife, like planting trees, ‘beetle banks’ and wildflower margins, and digging ponds around their fields. This means organic farms are more ecologically diverse.

Organic farming supports cleaner water for wildlife

The nitrogen fertilisers used in conventional farming can create ‘ocean dead zones’ which deprive life below water of vital oxygen. This can kill fish and other aquatic life. Organic standards ban the use of these manufactured fertilisers, lowering the risk of pollution in rivers, seas and waterways.

4. Is better for People

You might be asking yourself if organic food is safer than conventional products.

  • Organic farming joins the dots between our own health and the health of our planet, our animals and our wildlife:
  • Eating organic food means supporting a way of farming that works for people long into the future – from farmers out in the fields to those tucking in at home.
  • For a food product to be labelled as organic, every step in the supply chain, from farmers and packers to food processors and shops that sell organic products, must meet organic standards and prove it to an organic certification body, like the Irish Organic Association (IOA).

Food that contains fewer pesticides The best way to reduce your exposure to pesticides in food is to buy organic. Certified organic food, including fruit and vegetables, processed food and meat and dairy products will, overall, contain fewer pesticides.

As mentioned above, pesticides are named as a key driver of insect and pollinator decline. Three-quarters of our food crops depend on pollinators, and without them, we wouldn’t have some of our favourite, and most nutritious foods, like potatoes, strawberries, tomatoes, coffee and chocolate!

Fewer additives and preservatives The use of additives and processing aids is heavily restricted in organic. Organic standards prohibit:

  • Hydrogenated fats
  • Controversial artificial food colourings, sweeteners and preservatives, like tartrazine and aspartame
  • And prevent organic fruit and vegetables from being washed in chlorine

No GM ingredients Organic food systems are opposed to GM, for environmental, health and social reasons and all GM ingredients are banned under organic standards.

Their limited capability, plus the high cost of producing a commercial GM crop or animal, means that the technology is often targeted at profitable, but short-term fixes that don’t address root causes.

Organic systems work to find solutions to underlying causes rather than symptoms. For example, rather than tweaking a gene in livestock for short-term disease resistance, organic farming aims to reduce the likelihood of disease in the first place, usually through higher welfare standards.

Food produced using fewer antibiotics The overuse of antibiotics in human and animal medicine is undermining their ability to cure life-threatening infections. The more sparingly we use our antibiotics, the more effective they will remain.

What’s more, because organic farms are more diverse, using methods like agroforestry to grow other crops, organic farmers are less dependent on the success of a single crop, offering alternatives in the event of crop failures or volatile markets.