Does the battle over what qualifies as “organic” food affect agriculture?


Few things annoy food and agriculture people more than talking about what constitutes organic and genetically modified foods. Most people have no idea what these labels or terms mean (that, of course, didn’t stop Americans from spending $56 billion on organics in 2020). The federal government awards the organic label to foods grown and processed without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, but farmers and lobby groups have been fighting over various parts of the law governing organic production for decades, particularly what is included and what is not. Genetically modified organism (GMO) crops are not considered organic by the United States Department of Agriculture. And that, writes Leah Garden in The Daily Beast, could have important ramifications for global efforts to address climate change, population growth and other food security challenges. She points out that while consumers tend to think organic = natural = good, organic farming may require excessive land use and thus contribute to increased carbon emissions. And on the other hand, she argues that the oft-vilified biotechnology could help with crop resilience, reduce soil erosion and facilitate adaptations to climate change – all essential needs in this age of upheaval. But in short, wherever you are in the debates about GMOs and organics: there is no easy answer in this interpretation of the limitations of current and complicated labeling policy. —Jessica Terrell

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