5 Reasons Why Organic Sustainable Claims Matter
In a world where we’re bombarded by aisles of colourful claims screaming “natural”, “organic, ” “sustainable” and many more, how do we really know what these claims mean and why should we care? The growing interest in organic food isn’t just another fad, it’s a step towards better health and environmental responsibility. Among the plethora of food choices, organic food – whether it’s organic milk, organic coffee or organic vegetables, stands out as a reflection of growing consciousness about what we eat, wear, and how it impacts others. The organic tag isn’t just a label, but a claim that has profound significance for our health, the soil that grows our food and the future of our food security. But what makes the ‘organic’ claim hold water, and why should it matter to the average consumer? Here are five compelling reasons why organic claims are not merely marketing jargon, but crucial indicators of quality and sustainability for genuinely organic products.
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1. Organic Farming Gives Better Long Term Soil Quality
Organic farming uses various practices to protect and enhance the soil’s quality over time. Techniques such as crop rotation, composting, and avoiding synthetic fertilizers not only safeguard the soil but also improve its structure. By adding organic matter to the soil, it becomes more fertile and robust, creating an ideal environment for a healthy ecosystem beneath the surface.
Topsoil acts as thin layer like a powerhouse, where seeds take root and begin to grow. Healthy topsoil is teeming with essential minerals and microorganisms that are vital for cultivating nutritious and resilient crops. However, topsoil is delicate and easily eroded if not cared for properly. Organic farming practices protect and enrich the topsoil, ensuring that it remains fertile and productive.
2. Reduced Exposure to Chemicals for Humans and Animals
Conventional farming heavily relies on the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. These synthetic inputs are applied to increase crop yields and combat pests and weeds in conventional agricultural systems. However, this reliance on synthetic chemicals raises concerns about potential human health risks and environmental impacts.
Conventional farming practices that utilize synthetic fertilizers and pesticides can leave residues on the harvested crops. These chemical residues may include traces of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides that were applied during the cultivation process.
Organic farmers use natural methods like composting, crop rotation, and biological pest control on their crops and protect them from pests and diseases. Organic produce therefore tends to have lower levels of chemical residue compared to conventionally grown produce. Consumers can reduce their exposure to potentially harmful chemical residues and support agricultural practices that promote the health of ecosystems and biodiversity by selecting organic produce. Organic farming also prevents nitrate run-off into oceans which devastates marine life.
It’s important to note that while organic farming minimizes the use of synthetic inputs, in the US for example, it does allow the use of certain approved natural pesticides and a few USDA-approved synthetic substances under specific circumstances. However, the overall emphasis in organic farming is on utilizing natural and organic methods for crop production.
3. Better Nutritional Value
Many studies have looked into the nutritional benefits of organic food compared to conventionally grown produce. These studies consistently show that organic vegetables, milk, and other organic products often have higher levels of certain nutrients.
One study found that organic vegetables contain more beneficial antioxidants and phytochemicals that are associated with reducing the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative disorders (Bourn & Prescott, 2002). Another review concluded that organic milk tends to be richer in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, and certain minerals when compared to conventional milk (Smith-Spangler et al., 2012).
Additionally, organic farming practices can improve the nutrient content of the soil, leading to higher nutrient levels in organic crops. A study in the British Journal of Nutrition observed that organic tomatoes have higher vitamin C levels than conventionally produced tomatoes (Mitchell et al., 2007). These findings support the idea that choosing organic food may provide increased nutritional value when compared to conventionally grown alternatives.
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4. Environmental Sustainability
Organic farming has many advantages for the environment, including:
- Pollution reduction: Organic farmers avoid using synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which can contaminate soil and water sources. By eliminating the use of these chemicals, organic farming helps to maintain the quality of soil, water, and air, thereby reducing pollution levels.
- Water conservation: Organic farmers utilize various water management techniques, such as efficient irrigation methods and the use of cover crops, which help to minimize water usage.
- Reduces soil erosion: promoting the use of techniques like crop rotation, mulching, and the planting of cover crops, which help to protect the soil from erosion and maintain its fertility.
- Use of organic matter: These practices enhance soil structure, increase nutrient availability, and support beneficial microorganisms, improving soil fertility and long-term sustainability.
- Lower energy use: Organic systems often rely on manual labor, natural fertilizers, and biological pest control methods, reducing the need for energy-intensive machinery and synthetic inputs. This reduced energy demand contributes to lower greenhouse gas emissions and a smaller carbon footprint.
5. Transparent Food Claims and Consumer Trust
Transparent food claims give consumers with information about the production methods, ingredients, and environmental impact of food products. Such claims allow consumers to make informed decisions aligned with their personal values and dietary preferences. Consumers are more likely to trust and purchase products with transparent claims, as this transparency demonstrates accountability and promotes a sense of authenticity and integrity. New regulatory requirements such as the EU Green Claims Directive and The Green Claims Code in the UK for example will make it an offense to make unsubstantiated claims or committee greenwashing.
Transparent food claims also play a role in promoting sustainable and environmentally friendly practices within the food industry. By providing information about sustainable farming methods, reduced environmental impact, and fair trade practices, transparent claims empower consumers to support environmentally conscious and socially responsible brands.
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Spotlight on the UK Soil Association
The Soil Association certification is recognized as one of several global organic certification organizations. It holds a prominent position as the leading organic certifier in the UK, with 70% of food and drink on the shelves carrying their certification. The Soil Association’s expertise is rooted in their development of the world’s first organic standards, which subsequently influenced the creation of EU regulations for organic products. Their certification process is known for its rigorous nature, and the UK Soil Association standards are regarded as some of the highest in the world.
Despite this, there is still a reluctance among some consumers to buy organic products, including cost, accessibility, and confusing claims.
Marketers and brands can help alleviate the concerns of consumers by ensuring they accurately describe and guide consumers on organic and sustainable choices, with evidence to support their claims. The concept of organic encompasses a “whole system” approach that provides numerous compelling storytelling methods. To effectively connect with people and address their concerns, it is important to tap into what they value and provide rational explanations. Building trust and assurance can be achieved by combining certified organic symbols with clear and logical statements. Organic certification plays a pivotal role in telling the organic story, serving as a tool to promote it as a sustainable solution for the future. By utilizing these strategies, organic brands can effectively communicate the benefits and values of their products to consumers.
Embracing organic claims is not just a lifestyle choice but a commitment to better personal health and sustainable agricultural practices. As we’ve uncovered, organic foods like vegetables and milk not only promise reduced exposure to synthetic chemicals, thanks to minimized use of fertilizers but also often present superior nutritional profiles, advocating for a healthier diet. The conscious avoidance of harmful practices in organic farming not only ensures the long-term vitality of our vital topsoil but also steps towards environmental sustainability, reflecting in cleaner air and conserved water resources. The transparency and trust instilled by organic claims, especially when validated by stringent certifiers like the UK Soil Association, illuminate the path from the field to our forks, assuring us of a mindful, ethical journey of our food. Your choice to go organic ripens into a pledge to sustainable, health-conscious living, sowing seeds for a future where we have better access to health from nature, and where our consumption nurtures the planet in return.
Bourn, D., & Prescott, J. (2002). A comparison of the nutritional value, sensory qualities, and food safety of organically and conventionally produced foods. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 42(1), 1–34. https://doi.org/10.1080/10408690290825439
Frontiers | Organic Farming Provides Reliable Environmental Benefits but Increases Variability in Crop Yields: A Global Meta-Analysis. Available at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fsufs.2019.00082/full
Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems. (n.d.). More consistent differences between organic and conventional crops include that conventional crops contain greater pesticide levels, whereas organically grown crops contain higher levels of phytochemicals shown to exhibit health-protective antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fsufs.2021.699147/full
Gupta, S., et al. (2017). Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: A systematic literature review and meta-analyses. PLOS ONE, 12(6), e0179388. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0179388
Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Certain natural pesticides and a few synthetic pesticides approved for organic farming are used rarely and only as a last choice, in coordination with a USDA organic certifying agent. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/organic-food/art-20043880
Mitchell, A.E., et al. (2007). Ten-year comparison of the influence of organic and conventional crop management practices on the content of flavonoids in tomatoes. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 55(15), 6154–6159. https://doi.org/10.1021/jf071532h
National Center for Biotechnology Information. (n.d.). Conventional farming (CF) includes a large amount of chemical fertilizer and pesticide use to increase the yields per hectare. Chemical and synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are not applied in the organic farming (OF) system to reduce their adverse environmental impacts. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9261957/
Organic Farming Research Foundation. (n.d.). OFRF’s Top Ten Reasons to Go Organic. OFRF. Available at: https://ofrf.org/why-organic/#single/0
Organic Trade Association. (n.d.). The Power of Sustainable Organic. Retrieved from https://ota.com/organic-power
Our World in Data. (n.d.). Organic agriculture refers to the farming of crops or livestock without the use of synthetic inputs, including synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, plant growth regulators, nanomaterials, and genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). https://ourworldindata.org/is-organic-agriculture-better-for-the-environment
Rodale Institute. (n.d.). The essential difference between organic and conventional farming is that conventional farming relies on chemical intervention to fight pests and weeds and provide plant nutrition. That means synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. https://rodaleinstitute.org/why-organic/organic-basics/organic-vs-conventional/
Role of organic farming for achieving sustainability in agriculture. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2949911923000059
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Smith-Spangler, C., et al. (2012). Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives? A systematic review. Annals of Internal Medicine, 157(5), 348–366. https://doi.org/10.7326/0003-4819-157-5-201209040-00007
Soil Association Certification. (n.d.). About Organic Certification. Retrieved from https://www.soilassociation.org/organic-living/organic-certification/about-organic-certification/
Soil Association Certification. (n.d.). About Us. Retrieved from https://www.soilassociation.org/organic-living/about-us/
Soil Science Society of America. Accessed October 31, 2021. Available at: https://www.soils.org/
The European Commission. (n.d.). Organic Farming. Retrieved from https://ec.europa.eu/info/food-farming-fisheries/sustainability/organic-farming_en