Organic farming is defined by an agricultural management and production system combining a high level of biodiversity with environmental practices that preserve natural resources. It also incorporates rigorous standards in favor of animal welfare. It responds to a growing demand for natural products by consumers while protecting the environment within the framework of sustainable rural development.
The term organic farming can only be applied to the following product categories:
- Unprocessed products: cereals, fruits, vegetables, cotton, flowers, animals, eggs, milk …
- Products processed for human consumption: cheese, bread, ready meals, etc.
- Feed for animals: organic soybean meal, etc.
- Materials for vegetative reproduction and seeds.
Organic farming: Advantages and Disadvantages
The benefits of organic farming for consumers and the disadvantages
Organic farming has several advantages for consumers. First, organic farming obliges producers to respect certain specific quality criteria thanks to its particular specifications. In general, organic farming is more extensive than conventional farming. For example, animals farmed in organic farming generally benefit from larger areas, with compulsory access to the outdoors for certain animals. Organically grown calves, for example, receive 4m2 per head for a 300 kg calf, compared to only 1.8 in conventional agriculture. According to some specialists, this comprehensive approach would make it possible to obtain more qualitative products, tastier, for example.
Organic farming produces lower-quality products than conventional farming, resulting in higher operational expenses (and therefore selling prices). In general, the selling prices to consumers of organic farming are often higher than the selling prices of traditional agriculture. This, therefore, poses several problems, especially for poor consumers who have difficulty eating organic foods. Of course, the price difference is not necessarily significant on some products, especially those quickly grown without pesticides. However, some goods, particularly meat and dairy, are much more expensive in organic farming due to the additional labor required to meet the organic criteria.
Organic farming and nutritional composition
Several studies have attempted to assess the nutritional differences between organic and conventional farming products. These studies have revealed mixed results.
Several studies have noted an increased presence of certain nutrients in organic farming products, particularly omega-3 essential fatty acids in meat or dairy products or even so-called antioxidant compounds. Some meta-analyzes consider these differences significant, while others consider them of marginal nutritional importance. Some have also identified a higher content of phenolic or antioxidant compounds in grain products or fruits but identify these differences as “modest.”
In general, there are consistent indications that suggest that the nutritional composition of foods from organic farming could be a little more complete than that of foods from conventional agriculture; without this, the difference is significant.
Organic farming and pesticide residues
On the other hand, studies have regularly shown that products from organic farming contain fewer pesticide residues or potentially harmful effects than products from conventional agriculture. Cadmium, in particular, is one of the compounds found in smaller quantities in organic products. Although the pesticide residues found in conventional agriculture are very low (and well below the health limits in force), some consumers are worried about a potential cocktail effect that has still not been evaluated by health and scientific authorities. Therefore, the consumption of food from organic farming would make it possible to apply the precautionary principle and limit the risks of exposure to these cocktail effects.