Five reasons to choose organic for our planet
Lee Holdstock, Senior Business & Trade Development Manager at Soil Association Certification, explains what organic means and why it’s the natural choice for a sustainable future.
- It’s better for the planet
“The health of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible” – so said Albert Howard, one of the founders of the Soil Association, and it’s this belief that underpins the core principles of organic production. Organic farming is designed with nature in mind, and no other defined system of farming or food production comes close to delivering so many benefits for wildlife, soils and the natural world. Organic farmers are encouraged to “close the loop” on their farms, using resources to hand, minimising or eliminating inputs and working with nature to produce healthy, sustainable food in a way that maintains ecosystems, healthy soils and biodiversity. In this way, organic farming can help to mitigate climate change, as organic farms tend to use less energy and organic farmland stores more carbon – on average 3.5 tonnes extra for every hectare (the size of nearly two football pitches). This is the greenhouse gas equivalent of driving your car around the world almost one and a half times! In fact, modelling has shown that if Europe’s farmland followed organic principles, agricultural emissions would drop by 40–50%, with plenty to feed the growing population healthy diets.
- It’s better for wildlife
41% of Britain’s wildlife species has declined since 1970 and more than one in ten are currently facing extinction. Intensive farming practices have been identified as the primary drivers of these declines, particularly the heavy use of pesticides. Organic farmers look to nature to manage pest control, for example encouraging ladybirds to feed on aphids and birds to feed on slugs, rather than relying on pesticide use. As a result, organic farms are havens for wildlife – on average plant, insect and bird life is 50% more abundant on organic farms, with up to 30% more species richness. Studies have found that there are around 75% more wild bees on organic farms, which is significant when you consider that 78% of globally important commercial crops depend on insect pollination, so protecting our pollinators such as bees, butterflies and beetles is vital to our future food security.
- It’s better for soil
Around the world we are losing soil much faster than it’s formed, alarmingly 10–40 times faster, and some experts believe we have less than 60 harvests left in our soils. Soils also store more carbon than the atmosphere, and all the world’s plants and forests combined, which means that soil is one of our most important weapons in the fight against climate change. Organic farming is based on nourishing the soil, with farmers planting nitrogen-rich legumes rather than using synthetic fertilisers, and maintaining healthy soils through crop rotations and composting.
- It’s better for animals
Animal welfare is one of the most important aspects of organic farming, with strict standards ensuring that animals are given plenty of fresh air and space to roam, allowing them to express their natural behaviours such as grazing, rooting and dust-bathing. This reduces stress and disease, which means animals don’t need to undergo painful mutilations such as beak-trimming or tail-docking, which are banned under organic standards. The routine/preventative use of antibiotics is also banned under organic standards, meaning an animal is only treated with medicine if it is sick. The Soil Association has the highest standards of animal welfare in the UK.
- It’s food you can trust
Organic products certified and sold in the UK must legally comply with organic regulation, with certification and labelling agreed nationally and across Europe. This means certification is required to grow, process and market organic products. All organic farms and food companies must follow strict rules on food production and processing, and all are inspected at least once a year. Soil Association Certification certifies over 70% of food sold in the UK, so wherever you see the Soil Association organic symbol, you can be sure the food has been produced to the highest standards, and is a guarantee of food quality, independently inspected and certified all over the world.
Choosing organic means you are supporting farming practices with a more traceable production process and you’ll always no what’s in your food. It means higher levels of animal welfare, lower levels of pesticides, no manufactured herbicides or artificial fertilisers and more environmentally sustainable management of farmland and the natural environment.