To celebrate Organic September, and our exciting new involvement with Yarrah Organic pet food, we are publishing a series of detailed blogs about the in’s-and-out’s of Organic food production. The blog series will follow closely the structure of Council Regulation (EC) No 834/2007 - the European Union regulations on organic food production. We aim to bring this rule-book to life, with examples, videos and ideas to show just how important the Organic Food revolution is – and to make you proud to be a part of it. This week, in part one, we will discuss the Objectives of Organic.
The Objectives of Organic
The European Union regulations on organic food production form the basis of all organic certifications, (for example, The Soil Association Certification). They set out the three main objectives of Organic Production. The first of these is to “establish a sustainable management system for agriculture
- (i) respects nature’s systems and cycles and sustains and enhances the health of soil, water, plants and animals and the balance between them;
- (ii) contributes to a high level of biological diversity;
- (iii) makes responsible use of energy and the natural resources, such as water, soil, organic matter and air;
- (iv) respects high animal welfare standards and in particular meets animals’ species-specific behavioural needs;
The second objective is to “aim at producing products of high quality” and the third objective is to “aim at producing a wide variety of foods and other agricultural products that respond to consumers demand for goods produced by the use of processes that do not harm the environment, human health, plant health or animal health and welfare.”
As part of our Organic September celebrations, we have put together some interesting examples for you, as to why these objectives are so important.
Respecting Natures Systems - soil erosion, water quality and marine life.
According to The National Research Council (USA), referenced on Wikipedia, “Unsustainable agricultural practices are the single greatest contributor to the global increase in erosion rates” .You would think that the most devastating impact of soil erosion would be on the farmland itself – which has often lead me to wonder why the farmers don’t do more to prevent it. However, apparently this is untrue. It is the impact on water quality that is the most shocking. One major problem is Nitrogen washing out of heavily damaged soil: “of the 93.6 million acres of corn planed in 2007, it is estimated that 117 million kg of nitrogen were deposited into national waterways.”  This has devastating consequences on the environment. For example, In the Gulf of Mexico.
Hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico
“Hypoxia, or low oxygen, is an environmental phenomenon where the concentration of dissolved oxygen in the water column decreases to a level that can no longer support living aquatic organisms.”  The low oxygen levels are caused by a chain reaction which begins with soil erosion causing nitrogen (and pesticide) run-off from farms. As the nitrogen content in the water soars, the algae multiply like crazy. They use up large quantities of Dissolved Oxygen in the water and eventually start to die from lack of oxygen – as they degrade, even more Dissolved Oxygen is consumed, and eventually, fish and other aquatic organisms suffocate. According to research, 65% of the Nitrogen in the Gulf of Mexico comes from intensive farming.  The “Dead Zone” caused by this is now about 17,000 km2 (to compare, Northern Ireland is only 13,843 km2!).
This damage has impacted the wider environment too, for example, by causing interruption to the reproduction cycles of fish which migrate, such as trout and salmon and food loss for predator species . Also, food source disruption to birds, such as Herons, and mammals, for example Otters, who live mostly on fish. 
As you can see, the problems caused by intensive farming are not isolated. They affect all of “nature’s systems and cycles” and what is harmful to one part of the cycle can be devastating to another.
Organic farmers do not merely avoid the over use of nitrogen fertilisers, but actively seek to keep soil healthy and stop erosion. Healthy soil holds it’s nitrogen and so it does does not get washed away into the water supply! So, by taking care of their land Organic farmers are taking care of the whole eco-system!
Biological diversity – the birds and the bees.
Organic farming must contribute “to a high level of biological diversity” – this means the farm should provide a hospitable environment for the birds and the bees! The emergence of Colony Collapse Disorder has been of grave concern for several years, and the scale of the destruction of bee colonies has dismayed and dumbfounded scientists, consumers and politicians alike. While a proven cause or list of causes has not yet been established, many of the theories focus on farming – in fact 8 of the 10 theory categories listed on Wikipedia relate directly to farming or farming practices, and covers everything from bee-rental to genetic diversity loss from selective bee breeding.  And of course, recently the European Union voted for a two-year restriction on neonicotinoid insecticides.
In Organic Farming, not only are such insecticides totally banned, but the aim is specially to encourage bees and other insects to come and live on the farm. Here is what the soil association has to say
“The focus on natural ecosystems and native species, as well as the lack of pesticides used in organic farming, make it a haven for the bee. Organic farms also provide the wild spaces at field margins and in hedgerows, providing a diversity of flowers and habitats for bees to nest and shelter. Thus, by supporting their place in the delicate natural balance of plants and insects that are all mutually dependent on one another, Organic farming is both supporting biodiversity and the bee.” 
Bee’s are so vital to our survival and to the functioning of our wonderful planet – their pollination skills are responsible for one in every three mouthfuls of food that we eat . Organic farming, by its nature, keeps bee health at its core – therefore, Organic farming is vital to our survival too!
Animal welfare – letting animals do what they natural do, including having tails.
Organic farming “respects high animal welfare standards and in particular meets animals’ species-specific behavioural needs.” This is an often overlooked aspect of Organic farming, as, while many people care deeply about animal welfare, Organic is often associated purely with human health concerns.
Also, the details of the welfare improvements draw attention to the details of the all-to-horrific treatment of non-organic farm animals – perhaps another reason why the topic is often avoided. After all, for every Organic piglet that gets to keep her cute curly tail, there are many non-organic piglets who have them cut off (without anaesthetic) 
As you can see, however, animal welfare is not a secondary goal or bi-product of Organic farming. It is listed as one of it’s main objectives.
Quality and variety – as demanded by you!
The remaining objectives focus on quality and diversity of produce. I think it is fantastic that these are seen as core objectives – it really highlights why organic farming exists. It exists because we, the eaters of food, demanded it be so. I am truly proud to be part of a movement which is saving fish, and birds, and bees and piglets tails – aren’t you?
Coming Soon – The Principles of Organic