A basic question about organic labels

Wouldn't it be great if just a green label said their food was grown with minimal impact on the environment? That they took into account human and ecological sustainability in the long term? I would become 100% organic right now, if organic certification had a 1:1 correlation with environmental and social responsibility.
Unfortunately, organic is a marketing term and a highly profitable one. My cynical part looks at the way in which large corporations have been involved in the action and wonders: if organic farming practices have a higher cost that is passed on to consumers, why is it so profitable that large corporations want it? What am I really paying for?
While I still think that most farmers who pay more attention to sustainability are organic, buying organic food does not exempt us from asking questions about the impact of our food. The answers, as always, are hard to find.

Here I want to acknowledge how difficult it is to pull food from the ground. As someone who has managed to get aphids from indoor grasses, I have great respect for farmers who go out and grow food in the face of an unpredictable climate and fierce competition from insects, bacteria, viruses and small mammals. I also recognize that, however, you cultivate, you drastically alter the ecosystem of the area you cultivate. There is no way to avoid that. When it comes to organic farming, we are always talking about compromises.

Anyway, I can think of some questions to ask before buying organic products. It's more of a wish list than a set of realistic questions to ask your local farmer on Saturday mornings, but it's a way to start thinking about these complex issues. Most of these also apply to conventional agriculture. What would you add?

1. How does this organic farm manage pests?

Contrary to popular thinking, organic does not mean pesticide-free. It usually means that it is free of synthetic pesticides (some synthetic substances, like pheromones, are allowed; the National Organic Program has a list of organic pesticides that are up to all certified farmers), but it doesn't tell you how often. how many were used, how many different, how much or how safe. Natural pesticides are sometimes less efficient than synthetic equivalents, resulting in crop loss, greater amounts of pesticides, or both. (See this study that compares the environmental impact of natural and synthetic pesticides.
Unfortunately, natural pesticides are not necessarily softer on animals or soil. According to Just Food professor James McWilliams, sulfur, which is a natural fungicide commonly used in organic agriculture, is responsible for many farm worker injuries, is toxic to fish, and contributes to soil contamination. Another, copper sulfate, persists indefinitely, bioaccumulates in fish and is classified by the EPA as a type I toxin (the most toxic toxic; in comparison, glyphosate is a type III). Read more about the pesticides used in organic agriculture here. Like synthetic pesticides, some are relatively safe, some are very toxic, some are bioaccumulative, some are not. They should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Better answers to this question would be things like crop rotation, crop diversification, integrated pest management and the cultivation of beneficial predatory populations.
What attracts me is this: by drawing a line between the natural and the synthetic, the National Organic Program creates a binary based on ideology, not safety records. There is nothing intrinsically safer about natural pesticides. I would prefer to support a farmer who used integrated pest management to control pests, using the lowest effective dose of an appropriate and well-tried chemical (synthetic or not) as a last resort.

2. Does the farm work to control weeds? How often?


Tillage seems like an intrinsic part of agriculture, but should it? Farmers cultivate the soil to get rid of weeds, but tillage is also responsible for increased soil erosion, loss of moisture, runoff, poor soil quality and the subsequent need for more fertilizer. Off-farm farming has benefits in reducing labour and machinery and improving soil quality and sustainability. However, with zero tillage, farmers still need to control weeds. These are their three options: tillage, fumigation with conventional toxic herbicides or the use of GMO transgenic crops tolerant to glyphosate and glyphosate. Choose your poison.

I will have some hope that someday soon, enlightened leaders will explode the practice of the dark age of silencing the voices of science when making policy decisions.