Organics is more than just spray-free or residue-free. Organic food is grown naturally and without the routine use of synthetic agricultural pesticides or fertilizers. Organic farmers aim to produce healthy and nutritious food from a balanced living soil and any processing is designed to retain its organic integrity and natural goodness, and minimize the use of additives. The production of organic food has a reduced effect on the environment. It means animals have been treated humanely and rural communities have been united and empowered along the way. As organics has made its way into the mainstream, more and more producers and consumers see it as the only real option for the benefit of ourselves, each other and our environment.
Given the misconceptions about organics (and a lack of information about what organic certification means), GM and sustainability we've answered a few frequently asked questions below:
- Organic vs certified-organic – what’s the difference?
- Why does organic food sometimes cost more than non-organic food?
- What is organic farming?
- What is an organic farmer?
- Don't some scientists say that organic farming doesn't work in the long-term?
- Is organic farming just for smallholders and alternative lifestylers?
- If organic farmers avoid agricultural chemicals and fertilisers, how do they look after their soils?
- How do they maintain soil fertility without using chemicals?
- How do BioGro-certified producers protect against pests and diseases without using chemicals?
- Is it possible to grow an export crop without using chemical sprays?
- Do organic farmers turn the clock back and use horses instead of tractors and other modern farming equipment?
- Why do people farm organically?
- What prevents producers from exploiting people by wrongfully marketing their produce as organic?
- Why oppose Genetic Modification?
Organics is more than just ‘spray-free’ or ‘residue-free’. Organic food is grown naturally and without the routine use of synthetic agricultural pesticides or fertilizers. Organic farmers aim to produce healthy and nutritious food from a balanced living soil and any processing is designed to retain its organic integrity and natural goodness, and minimize the use of additives. The production of organic food has a reduced effect on the environment. It means animals have been treated humanely and rural communities have been united and empowered along the way.
There is no specific regulation in New Zealand protecting the word ‘organic’ so it’s ‘buyer beware’. Products can be labelled as ‘organic’ without any requirement to prove this through certification. BioGro certification provides you with an independent validation of a producer’s organic claim.
To be certified-organic by BioGro, producers must document a full management plan and record all inputs used in their production. Producers are audited at least annually to verify that they comply with our high organic standards. This gives them the right to use our trademark which is trusted throughout NZ and around the world. Organic certification gives consumers an independent validation of a producer’s claim to be organic.
BioGro’s logo has gained a high level of trust from consumers in NZ and around the world. This has positioned organic food and products at the high-end of the market. Over the last five years the organic market has experienced rapid growth, partly as a result of lost confidence in some aspects of conventional agricultural methods, food scares, and because of genetic engineering.
As more funding becomes available to the organics industry for research and development the costs associated with organic production will reduce. These cost reductions should be passed on to the consumer. Similarly, as organic production becomes mainstream the price of organic food should also come down.
On the other hand, chemical farming systems may not take responsibility for or pay the costs of the downstream effects of their production methods, such as chemical pollution entering waterways. The costs of these ecologically harmful activities may not directly impact on the cost of conventionally grown food, but we all pay for the negative effects on our environment in the long-term. Organic food is not expensive if you consider the ‘actual’ value of organic food and organic production.
Organic farming is a holistic system of agriculture. The founding premise of organic farming is that optimum soil management will produce healthy crops and livestock in a sustainable manner. Organic practices aim to respect all life and embrace biodiversity by conserving and minimising negative impacts on the natural environment.
The key principles of organic farming are:
- encouraging and enhancing biological cycles
- maintaining and improving long-term soil structure and fertility
- practising humane management of livestock
- maintaining genetic diversity
- cycling organic matter and nutrients within a production system
- minimising all forms of pollution
- adopting an integrated management system for soil, crops and the environment for weed, pest and disease control
- aiming to produce food of high nutritional quality.
Organic farmers work with nature to produce high-quality, nutritious, organic food with nil or minimal use of synthetic inputs. Their primary objective is to achieve optimum yields at the same time as maintaining and enhancing the farm's 'capital' (the soil), and protecting the local environment.
Very few still say that. Most scientists accept that there is a sound scientific basis to organic farming. In the past, there has been some scientific prejudice against organics, however this has changed dramatically in the last decade. Organics is now taught in many teaching institutions, polytechnics and universities throughout New Zealand and overseas.
No. Most BioGro-certified farmers are serious commercial producers and produce a wide range of products. They are distinguished by how they manage their farms, not by the size of their farms or enterprises. Exports of organic produce from New Zealand currently exceed $170 million, and the total NZ market is estimated to be $450-$530 million*. The organic market is on track to reach a predicted $1 billion by 2013.
*New Zealand Organic Sector Report 2010
If organic farmers avoid agricultural chemicals and fertilisers, how do they look after their soils?
BioGro-certified farmers only avoid synthetic and soluble fertilisers. They are dedicated to building soil fertility and structure using only natural forms of fertilisers and other soil building practices. This generates soils with high nutrient and water-holding capacity and productivity. This is achieved while minimising negative ecological effects such as those from fertiliser run-off.
BioGro-certified famers use compost, mineral fertilisers (lime, dolomite, ground phosphate rock) and liquid fertilisers (fish or seaweed-based) to maintain soil fertility. They do not apply synthetic water soluble fertilisers. Green manure crops, legumes, fallowing, livestock, and crop rotations with restorative pasture phases are some of the techniques employed by BioGro certified producers to enhance soil fertility.
Pests and diseases are controlled by:
- employing well-established organic growing methods
- using the best plant varieties and livestock breeds for organics
- having a diversity of flora and fauna which maintains an ecological balance and encourages natural predators
- using other biological controls such as pheromone mating disruption and bacterial preparations like Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)
- applying a limited range of natural sprays such as pyrethrum.
- selecting livestock for disease resistance and using homeopathic remedies and other permitted treatments when required.
Yes. Fresh organic produce is being exported to all major markets around the world.
Do organic farmers turn the clock back and use horses instead of tractors and other modern farming equipment?
No. BioGro-certified farmers use appropriate and innovative technologies to maximise efficiency of their operations.
Both philosophical and market reasons lead people into organic farming - reasons are as diverse as the farmers themselves. Some examples are that they:
- prefer organics in order to help protect the environment and want to work more in harmony with nature
- are concerned about the effects of agrichemicals on the health of their family, farm workers and themselves
- see the market potential for organics
- prefer the challenge and lifestyle of organics
- enjoy the satisfaction gained and positive feedback from the markets
In key markets such as Europe, Japan, the USA and Canada, the use of the label 'organic' is protected by law. In some countries including New Zealand, however, there are still no laws protecting the word 'organic', so anyone can claim that their produce is organic (although the Fair Trading Act applies). Labelling laws are changing rapidly, and most consumers and retailers now look for independent organic certification from certifiers like BioGro as a guarantee of authenticity.
Organic producers and organisations such as BioGro are opposed to the introduction of genetically modified crops and livestock breeds to New Zealand agriculture for a variety of reasons…
- threat to New Zealand's clean green image - the release of GMO's in NZ will threaten New Zealand's position as a preferred supplier of food products to key markets throughout the world.
- no consumer demand - no consumer markets are asking for GM food, and in fact most markets are rejecting it. Why endanger our image and the markets for non-GM producers by releasing GMOs? As a striking example, US corn exports to Europe have declined from 2 million tonnes in 1998 to 6000 tonnes in 2002, thus sending a strong message that European consumers do not want GM food. These declining figures represent a loss in sales for US GM producers of more than US$200 million.
- threat to organics - potential cross-boundary contamination of organic crops by neighbouring GM crops can result in lost organic certification and consequent loss of organic markets and income.
- increasing demand for organics - international consumer demand for organic products is escalating. GM poses a real threat to organic producers satisfying this demand.
- increased costs for organic producers - if GMOs are released here then organic producers will face increased traceability and testing costs to guarantee that their products are GM free.
- pest resistance to GM varieties - GM varieties grown overseas are already causing resistance by pests to, for example, Bt (a bacterial spray) which is a 'soft' insecticide widely used in conventional and organic agriculture.
- risk management - there hasn't been an adequate risk assessment of the safety of GM production and food.
- irreversible - the release of GMOs into the environment is irreversible so it should be carefully considered. There is no way of predicting the medium or long term effects of GM upon the environment.
- lack of information - there is a lack of consumer information about GM and a lack of GM food labeling. This takes away a consumer's right to know what they are buying and eating, what practices, and which companies they are supporting.
- inequitable allocation of public research funds - a 1991 NZ MAF policy paper identifies organics as sustainable agriculture. Organics should receive an equitable share of research funding in order to capitalise on lucrative organic markets both here and overseas.
- political pressure - there is risk of political pressure by countries that support large-scale GM production on smaller countries to accept GM products irrespective of negative consumer signals.