The sound organic food movement has its roots in the 1950s, though people were studying and advocating organic agriculture methods before that. The term "organic farming" was first used in a book published in 1940. The book talked about the farm as an organism that needed to be cared for holistically.
History of the Sound Organic Food Movement
The advances in technology made after World War II influenced every aspect of American life, from the proliferation of television sets to the advent of new chemicals used for fertilizers and pesticides.
Two of the most important of these chemicals were ammonium nitrate, used as a cheap source of nitrogen, and DDT, an incredibly powerful pesticide that killed insects as well as other wildlife and was eventually banned in the United States in 1972.
At the same time, people were speaking out against chemical methods of agriculture and seeking solutions that were not as harmful to the environment. One of the big pioneers of the sound organic food movement in the United States was J.I, Rodale, an advocate of good health through organic gardening methods. His Organic Farming and Gardening magazine brought issues of organic horticulture to the nation's attention. He linked the eating of organic produce to healthy living.
In 1962, Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, a now-legendary book about the dangers of DDT and other chemicals that were harming the environment. That book is often seen as the beginning of the modern environmental movement, which really burst into the general American consciousness with the first Earth Day in 1970.
Since that time, proponents of organic food production have grown in number. The 1990s and 2000s have seen a surge in talk about organic foods, including the certification of products as organic and the expansion of many food manufacturers into organic product lines.
Organics and Food Safety
Many people seek out organic foods because of food safety issues on a number of levels. Reducing personal exposure to pesticides is often one of the first issues that brings people to the sound organic food movement, as well as knowing that their choices keep pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals from being used.
However, there are other issues of food safety that can be confusing for people who are new to organics. For one thing, not every producer who uses organic methods is actually certified organic. Some farmers don't want to go to the expense of becoming officially certified, which means you just have to trust the farmer who says his or her produce is organic. Eden Organic products are organic, but they don't put the certified organic seal on them because they say the federal standards aren't rigorous enough.
Another big issue in the organics world today has to do with the concentration of big organic brands in the hands on non-organic companies. Since the organic certification rules went into effect in 2002, the organic food sector has grown by about 20 percent a year, but most of that growth has been centered on huge companies that seem to be in organics as an afterthought. Juice maker Odwalla is owned by Coca-Cola, Kellogg's owns Kashi and Dean Foods owns Horizon, which makes organic milk. Santa Cruz Organic and R.W. Kundsen are both owned by JM Smucker. In addition to owning organic brands, more major companies are bringing out organic lines. This makes consumers wonder if those products are truly organic or just made with organic ingredients.
In order for a finished product to be considered organic, it needs to be completely separated from non-organic food products when grown, picked, shipped, processed and packed. That means companies shouldn't produce organic and non-organic foods on the same line because the organic products could be tainted by the conventionally grown products.
Some people try to avoid organic brands owned by larger, conventional food companies for this very reason--their organic label just isn't reliable. This is a major example of the difficulties involved in choosing which organic foods you want to eat.