Organic movement

Organic movement

The organic movement broadly refers to the organizations and individuals involved worldwide in the promotion of organic farming, which is a more sustainable mode of agriculture. Its history goes back to the first half of the 20th century, when modern large-scale agricultural practices began to appear.


Overview and Origin

The organic movement began in the early 1900s in response to the shift towards synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides in the early days of industrial agriculture. It lay dormant for many years, kept alive by a relatively small group of ecologically minded farmers. These farmers came together in various associations: Demeter International of Germany, which encouraged biodynamic farming and began the first certification program, the Australian Organic Farming and Gardening Society[1], the Soil Association of the United Kingdom, and Rodale Press in the United States, along with others. In 1972 these organizations joined to form the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). In recent years, environmental awareness has driven demand and conversion to organic farming. Some governments, including the European Union, have begun to support organic farming through agricultural subsidy reform. Organic production and marketing have grown at a fast pace.

The term “organic” can be broadly described as food grown without the assistance of man-made chemicals ( The beginnings of the organic movement can be traced back to the beginning of the 1800s. In 1840 Justus Von Liebig developed a theory of mineral plant nutrition. Liebig believed that manure could be directly substituted for mineral salts. Many years later in 1910, preceding the First World War, chemists Fritz Haber and Carl Bosh developed an ammonia synthesis process, making use of nitrogen from the atmosphere. This form of ammonia had already been used to manufacture explosives, so after the war, it was implemented into the fertilization of agriculture.

Organic food was initially seen as a fad observed by the eccentric few, however today it has become more widespread. “Organics have come to represent a safe house in a disturbing world where food quality and safety are constantly under siege” (Blythman). Today, whole foods stores have captured a significant share of the grocery shopping market, specifically, Whole Foods Market, Wild Oats, and others.


Specifications for what may be classified as "organic" food may vary by location. For all intents and purposes, the following quote from presents a fair structure for the movement.

“What is organic food? Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled ‘organic,’ a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.”


According to, the purchasing of organic food stuffs in has risen every year since 1990 to latest record breaking year. Purchasing continues to gain among all income groups and races, and is gaining the most ground with women ages 25-35, white, & married demographic.

One of the pioneers was John Battendieri.

Battendieri pressed his first batch of "Mr. Natural" apple juice in 1972, making it one of the first packaged organic products. [2]

Organic Companies

The recent interest in the organic industry has sparked the interest of many business. Among these businesses are large companies that seek to distribute many products in large amounts to the American public. The organic market is now a 14 billion dollar a year industry, that continues to grow especially from large corporations such as Wal-Mart that are now offering organic choices to their customers.[3] Other companies leading the organic revolution include food companies such as; General Mills and Kraft that are making the switch to offer more organic option for customers. Along with major companies now offering more organic choices many large companies are buy up smaller already established organic companies such as Earth’s Best, Rice Dream soy milk, Garden of Eatin', Celestial Seasonings and Health Valley. By having large companies buy up the already established smaller organic companies it exposes these companies to the popular culture, therefore making them popular because they are in large quantities.

Organic Cosmetics

Cosmetic products that are made with organic ingredients are made without the use of harsh chemicals like pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fertilizers. The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) approved pesticides to be used long before research was done that now has linked these chemicals to cancer, and other diseases. Many manufacturers are misleading when it comes to labels on the back of organic cosmetics. For example, manufacturers may use the word "organic" its scientific meaning of “containing carbon.”

In order for cosmetics to truly be organic, the Organic Consumers Association suggests that all the cleaning and conditioning ingredients be made from organic materials, the manufacturing process should be simple and ecologica. Non-agricultural water like floral water or botanical water should not be used on labeling because the majority of floral waters used in the cosmetics are the water by-product of essential oil distillation after all the essential oil has been removed. Companies unfortunately mislead consumers by listing floral waters and botanical water extracts and infusions first, burying the synthetic surfactant ingredients that in fact make up the core of the product further down on the labeling.

However some floral waters in skin care products have been created using a distillation process using water only (which takes longer and is usually more expensive to buy and create) and no alcohol or synthetic surfactant ingredients are used to create this, therefore proving to be legitimately organic and created using a natural process.

Organic Farming

Organic farming methods have proven to be more effective than many conventional farmers realized, but they are still placed at a relative disadvantage by their lack of synthetic nitrogen. Thus they rely on price premiums, but these price premiums often allow them to reap higher profits than conventional farms.

Criticisms of the Organic Movement

The organic movement has transformed the mentality that the general public held about food. However, not everyone is a fan of organic products, higher prices for instances are one of the first things critics attack. Originally, organic farming was characterized by family farming, which contributed to its wholesome image. Initially, organic products were for a small portion of the population, the portion that is left over after what society determined was popular culture. Over the years the idea of organic food and products caught on, becoming more popular and widespread. The event of organics becoming more normative marked the transition from high culture to popular culture. Today, organic farming is not representative of quality family farming, it is dominated by big corporations and has become big business. “A single company controls 70 percent of the market in organic milk, California grows about 400 million dollars per year in organic produce and the Organic Trade association includes the biggest names in agribusiness, such as Archer Daniels Midland, Gerber, and Heinz ” (Miller, 9). Despite the modest beginnings of the organic movement, organic farming is now a lucrative source of revenue, and its humble beginnings are no longer representative of the organic products on the market today.

Some organic food advocates claim that organic food tastes better, and often it does. The organic movement emphasizes eating local produce that is in season, which in turn, produces fresher food. Essentially, the food being tastier is not attributable to the fact that it’s organic (Miller, 9). “Organic food may be fresh, but it’s fresh from the manure fields” (Miller, 10).

Critics further protest against the idea that organic food is healthier. Miller, the author of The Organic Myth asserts, “organic food is no more nutritious than food fueled by industrial fertilizers that are sprayed with synthetic pesticides and genetically altered in science labs.” He goes on to say that bacteria are a source of disease in organic food and organic farming is incredibly inefficient (Miller).

Supporters of the Organic Movement

Proponents of organic agriculture point to the fact that organically-grown foods contain higher nutrient levels than those grown with synthetic pesticides and herbicides, and the environmental benefits of not using these often persistent and toxic chemicals. Organic farming also promotes greater biodiversity on farms, as the lack of poison allows species other than those being cultivated to inhabit the farms.

Groups such as IFOAM are active supporters of the organic movement throughout the world. They readily state their goals and are taking their idea to the world.

"Agriculture is one of humankind's most basic activities because all people need to nourish themselves daily. History, culture and community values are embedded in agriculture. The Principles apply to agriculture in the broadest sense, including the way people tend soils, water, plants and animals in order to produce, prepare and distribute food and other goods. They concern the way people interact with living landscapes, relate to one another and shape the legacy of future generations."

This organization and others like it come under attack from political right in the US and other countries, but it has been accredited by many United Nations organizations.

"Several of the management practices evolved by the organic farming movement have a direct relevance to the battle to achieve food security. Examples include diversification and crop rotation, as well as the use of natural means to combat pests."

-Quote from Jacque Diouf, Director General of the FAO in IFOAM's 25th anniversary issue of its magazine Ecology & Farming.

IFOAM has been an FAO-accredited international organization since 1997.

In March 2002, IFOAM obtained observer status with UNCTAD, and in addition received classification in a special category to participate in the meetings of the Commission on Trade on Goods and Services and Commodities, the Commission on Enterprise, Business Facilitation and Development and the meetings of the UNCTAD Board.

“Organic agriculture can play an important role to achieve the goals of the Convention on Biodiversity, in the global context of the Millennium Development Goals, by significantly reducing the current rate of biodiversity loss. In addition, organic farming offers direct economic benefits to resource-poor farmers and thereby makes an important contribution to both poverty alleviation and sustainable development.”

-Statement made by UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer at the IFOAM Conference on Biodiversity and Organic Agriculture that UNEP co-hosted September 24–26, 2004 in Nairobi, Kenya.

IFOAM is an accredited international organization with UNEP, but that only one aspect of a more complex relationship between the two organizations.

In September 2004, UNEP hosted and jointly organized the Third International IFOAM Conference on Biodiversity and Organic Agriculture at the headquarters of UNEP in Nairobi, Kenya.

IFOAM and the UNEP are in the process of developing a three-year joint work program for biodiversity and organic agriculture in order to implement the recommendations resulting from the conference.

With organizations such as these gaining in their presence worldwide organic farming practices will likely gain ground in the foreseeable future.


  • The first use of the term "organic farming" is by Lord Northbourne (aka Walter James, 4th Baron Northbourne). The term derives from his concept of "the farm as organism", which he expounded in his book, Look to the Land (1940), and in which he described a holistic, ecologically balanced approach to farming. Northbourne wrote of "chemical farming versus organic farming".
  • Sir Albert Howard's 1940 book, An Agricultural Testament, was influential in promoting organic techniques, and his 1947 book "The Soil and Health, A Study of Organic Agriculture" adopted Northbourne's terminology and was the first book to include "organic" agriculture or farming in its title.
  • In 1939, strongly influenced by Sir Howard's work, Lady Eve Balfour launched the Haughley Experiment on farmland in England. It was the first, side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional farming. Four years later, she published The Living Soil, based on the initial findings of the Haughley Experiment. It was widely read, and lead to the formation of a key international organic advocacy group, the Soil Association.
  • During the 1950s, sustainable agriculture was a research topic of interest. The science tended to concentrate on the new chemical approaches. In the U.S., J.I. Rodale began to popularize the term and methods of organic growing. In addition to agricultural research, Rodale's publications through the Rodale Press helped to promote organic gardening to the general public.
  • In 1962, Rachel Carson, a prominent scientist and naturalist, published Silent Spring, chronicling the effects of DDT and other pesticides on the environment. A bestseller in many countries, including the US, and widely read around the world, Silent Spring was instrumental in the US government's 1972 banning of DDT. The book and its author are often credited with launching the environmental movement.
  • In the 1970s, worldwide movements concerned with environmental pollution caused by persistent agrichemical increased attention on organic farming. One goal of the organic movement was to promote consumption of locally grown food, which was promoted through slogans such as "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food".
  • In 1972, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), was founded in Versailles, France. IFOAM was dedicated to the diffusion of information on the principles and practices of organic agriculture across national and linguistic boundaries.
  • In the 1980s, around the world, various farming and consumer groups began seriously pressuring for government regulation of organic production to ensure standards of production. This led to various legislation and certification standards being enacted through the 1990s and to date. Currently, most aspects of organic food production are government-regulated in the US and the European Union.
  • In the 2000s, the worldwide market for organic products (including food, beauty, health, bodycare, and household products, and fabrics) has grown rapidly. More countries are establishing formal, government-regulated certification of organic food: in 2002 in the US, in 2005 in China and projected for 2006 in Canada, among others. Monitoring and challenging certification rules and decisions have become a regular, high profile aspect of activists in the organic movement.

See also


  1. ^ Paull, John "The Lost History of Organic Farming in Australia", Journal of Organic Systems, 2008, 3(2):2-17.
  2. ^ "Santa Cruz Organics". SCO Web site. Retrieved 2008-11-11. 
  3. ^ Clark, Georgia. "The New Horizon for Organics: A Market Outlook of the Effects of Wal-Mart on the International Organic Market". June 2007
  4. ^ Paull, John (2011) "Attending the First Organic Agriculture Course: Rudolf Steiner’s Agriculture Course at Koberwitz, 1924", European Journal of Social Sciences, 21(1):64-70.

External links

  • [1] - J. Paull, 2006, The Farm as Organism: The Foundational Idea of Organic Agriculture.
  • [2] - J. Paull, 2007, China's Organic Revolution.


  • The organic Agriculture: History and background is an excellent source for the origins of the organic movement. (
  • Blythman, J. (2005). The Trouble with Organics. Academic Search Complete, 35(6), 24-25
  • Miller. (2004). The Organic Myth. Ebscohost, Vol 56(2). 7-10.

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