Thursday, 23 April 2015


“What is necessary to keep providing good care to nature has completely fallen into ignorance during the materialism era.” - Rudolf Steiner

Organic food is a growing concern around the world and in many of the Western industrialised nations, it is also big business, as more and more people are consuming it. Organic farmers and food producers grow and produce food without using synthetic chemicals (such as pesticides or artificial fertilisers). They do not use genetically modified (GM) components, or expose food to irradiation for any reason. 

Generally, organic food production also takes into account animal welfare and environmental sustainability. The term organic can also cover animal produce, such as eggs, which are free-range (and not from caged – i.e. battery) hens.

Most people living in Australia, the USA, Western Europe can walk into a supermarket or specialist store and buy organic fruit and vegetables, dried legumes, grains, meat and meat products, dairy foods, eggs, honey and some processed foods. In order for a product to be deemed “organic” it has to come from a certified organic food producer. Organic farms are thus designated only after they have been operating according to organic principles for three years. However, one must use caution because in many countries the use of the word “organic” is not regulated, and theoretically, anything which is not organic can be marketed thus.

Animals raised according to certified organic principles are treated humanely. Chickens are free-range and not kept in battery cages, cows are not kept in confined feed lots. Animals are not fed any growth-regulating drugs, steroids, hormones or antibiotics. However, animals may be treated with vaccines to prevent disease. Protecting the environment and working in harmony with existing ecosystems is a prime feature of these food production facilities. Conserving water, soil and energy, and using renewable resources and natural farming cycles is a standard modus operandi. Traditional farming methods are often used, such as rotating crops to prevent depleting the soil of nutrients and allowing land to become fallow or sown for a season with soil-enriching plants such as clover.

It is often not realised, that organic foods are not necessarily completely chemical free, but the pesticide residues are considerably lower than those found in foods produced with synthetic chemicals. Certain naturally occurring pesticides, including pyrethrins, light oils, copper and sulphur, together with biological pesticides such as the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis are permitted in organic farms. Some people buy organic produce because they are concerned about pesticides, antibiotics or other chemical residues in conventionally-produced food. Although pesticide residues in fruit and vegetables are monitored in Australia, organic food consumers believe organic food is healthier. 

Others, appreciate that organic foods promote a healthier and more sustainable use of the environment, and more humane treatment of animals. Also, some people worry about the possible long-term health, economic and environmental consequences of GM foods and prefer to support an industry that doesn’t use GM techniques.

The Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner pioneered biodynamic farming, which places strong emphasis on ecological harmony and environmental sustainability. Biodynamic food is grown with particular composts, growth-promoting practices and natural activating substances. Excessive use of chemicals and modern farming methods have led to a decline in soil fertility and an increase in salinity and blue-green algae in waterways over many years. Organic farmers try to minimise damage to the environment by using physical weed control and animal and green manure. Quite a lot of Steiner’s ideas and methods are used in organic farming.

Many studies have been published that compare the nutritional content of organic and conventionally grown plants, and most have shown no significant differences in nutritional content. However, some researchers maintain that although the differences are small, some organic food has lower nitrate levels, higher vitamin C levels and higher levels of selenium. Having read many published literature on the subject, I would not use the argument of “higher nutritional content” in promoting organic food.

Organic food is considerably more expensive because production is more labour-intensive and without herbicides, pesticides and other chemicals, the yield is generally smaller. However, many organic food outlets can take the consumer on a price hike that is quite unacceptable. To take an apt example (this being citrus season) my local supermarket had conventionally-produced oranges for sale at $1.10 per kg. Next door, a health food shop was selling organic oranges at $7.50 per kg. A greengrocer down the street was selling organic oranges at $4.90 per kg. Many people buy organic produce over the internet (for example, here is a site in Brisbane:

The Australian organic food industry is currently worth around $200–$250 million per year domestically and a further $50–$80 million per year in exports with an expected annual growth of up to 60 per cent. Consumer demand is growing at a rate of 20–30% per year, with retail sales increasing 670% between 1990 and 2002. I do not go out of my way to buy organic food, but if it is available and reasonably priced, I prefer it over conventionally-produced food. The fruit and vegetables that we grow in our garden are grown organically and I must say that nothing that we buy in shops tastes quite like the home-grown stuff!

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting! I was surprised to learn that organic food is not more nutritious, but on reflection, I guess it makes sense.