Lentis/The Organic Foods Movement
The adoption of organic foods has been gaining momentum in the past few decades. It has become a social movement motivated by environmental and health concerns. Industrial farming techniques such as the use of synthetic chemicals in crops and livestock became prevalent during the past century. Concern over the bio-effects of these chemicals facilitated the organic movement in the mid 20th century. Organic markets continue to grow in the U.S. with the passing of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, which standardized organic farming practices.
Sir Albert Howard is considered the father of organic agriculture. He developed organic techniques from observing traditional Indian farming practices, starting with composting methods. Lord Northbourne coined the term "organic farming" in his book Look to the Land (1940), where he describes the farm as an organism. In 1962, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring was published, documenting the use of industrial pesticides and their harm to the environment. The book is credited with facilitating the environmental movement in which the organic movement is embedded.
Organic Certification 
In the U.S., the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances dictates what substances can be used by organic farmers. Farmers must avoid the use of synthetic chemicals, such as pesticides, fertilizers, and antibiotics. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and irradiation are prohibited. Organic farmers must also document production and sales, maintain separation of organic and non-organic products, and submit to inspections.
Skepticism in Organics 
The skeptics and critics of the organic movement are not well defined groups or organizations. They are individuals (e.g. scientists, researchers, consumers, etc) typically concerned with aspects of the movement such as the perceived health and environmental benefits.
Health benefits 
There are perceived health benefits by forgoing the industrial use of synthetic chemicals. Consumers often associate the organic methods with higher levels of nutrition. One study by Williams and Hammitt showed that 90% of customers surveyed perceived a reduction in pesticide health risk in organic foods compared with conventional foods. 50% of customers perceived a reduction in risk due to natural pathogens and toxins. Indeed there are studies that show some organic foods have more nutrients .
It is clear that customers assume organics, being natural and devoid of chemicals, are safer. Studies have shown, however, that some organic produce has higher levels of E. Coli and salmonella. Organic peanut butter was responsible for an outbreak of salmonella in 2009. Research reviews are mainly inconclusive about the overall health benefits of organics. Nonetheless, consumers' perception of the health and safety of organics has contributed to the recent increase in organic food demand. Skeptics argue that the health benefits are often overestimated and that there is no substantial evidence.
Environmental benefits 
Supporters often push organics as the "green" solution to the chemicals used in conventional agriculture. Carson's Silent Spring provokes a detrimental view of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and their impact on the environment. An estimated 20% of nitrogen (majority of which comes from nitrogen based fertilizers) that humans put into watersheds wash into the river. This leads to eutrophication, the growth of phytoplankton in water, which depletes the water's oxygen supply making it inhabitable by aquatic animals. Thus, many believe that organic farming can mitigate these problems by prohibiting the use of synthetic chemicals.
Some researchers, however, note the downsides of organic food production, such as long distance transportation. One study found that organic mangoes and green peppers traveled from further distances. This leads to more CO2 emissions, negating some of the benefits that organics provide. One response is to farm locally. One misconception is that inputs into organic production are harmless to the environment. Organic farmers can still use pesticides, but they must be "organic" and be approved on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. One study has implicated that organic pesticides may even be more harmful because they are less selective as to which insects are targeted.
Supporters of Organics 
One vocal group is the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), which campaigns for "health, justice, and sustainability. The OCA deals with crucial issues of food safety, industrial agriculture, genetic engineering, children's health, corporate accountability, Fair Trade, environmental sustainability and other key topics."
Going organic can be an attractive option to farmers for a number of reasons.
- Profit: due to the price premiums consumers are willing to pay, organic farming can be more profitable than conventional.
- Robustness: Organic agriculture can withstand weather conditions such as droughts or flooding better than conventional agriculture.
Urban Homesteading 
Urban homesteading is a subculture of the organic movement where individuals in urban and suburban areas transform their home to a sustainable unit. One example is the Dervaes family of Pasadena, CA, who grows most of their food on a fifth of an acre, producing over 6,000 lbs and 350 verities of crops. They also produce their own biodiesel and generate two-thirds of their energy using solar panels. Jules Dervaes started the transition to homesteading because of several events, an increase in water rates due to a drought and the introduction of GMOs. Dervaes wanted to protect his family from what he saw as a "mad experiment" by biotech companies. He wanted to "plant [his] way to independence".
Urban homesteading presents the organic movement as a social movement for independence. The Dervaes and other homesteaders are consumers who want control over what is in their food and how it is processed. Individuals often use internet and blogging to give tips (e.g. blogs on how to make a compost bin) and teach others how to create a sustainable homestead.
On a larger scale, urban agriculturists seek to have the same effect on cities Cities are consumers of food and other agricultural products. As part of the organic movement, local farms and individual residents are growing crops in and around cities, utilizing urban waste to create a sustainable system. This makes the city more independent, relying less on imports. An important motivation is food security; the proximity gives cities an emergency backup food supply.
Consumer decision making 
Some consumers may make a decision to purchase only organic foods; others may choose their food based on the lowest price. Between the extremes are those who make the decision on a case-by-case basis, and here psychology becomes relevant.
The Weighted Additive Rule is a procedure for exhaustively evaluating a number of choices by considering all the relevant attributes. This is often difficult, and sometimes impossible when not all factors can be quantified or not all information is readily available. Thus, people employ heuristics when facing complex decisions. In Satisficing, one such heuristic, the alternatives are examined in the order they are encountered. If they do not meet a cutoff threshold in each of the desired attributes, they are rejected as long as there are more options to consider. Applying this to the decision of selecting produce in a grocery store, desired attributes might include ripeness, damage, size/quantity, certifications such as organic, and price.
The organic movement represents a reform of an industry that appears to be gaining traction through a relatively free market. There is government regulation involved, but it is limited to defining what qualifies as organic. This provides a sharp contrast to top-down, EPA-style environmental regulations. The consumer is given a way to "put their money where their mouth is," and the producer is given the economic incentive necessary to make the transition.
While there is never a silver bullet, and the implications of organic farming are complex and not all good, the successes of the movement could provide useful lessons for advancing other environmental or societal goals.
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