Organic movement

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The organic movement broadly refers to the organizations and individuals involved worldwide in the promotion of organic farming. It started around the first half of the 20th century, when modern large-scale agricultural practices began to appear.

Overview and origin[edit]

The organic movement began in the early 1900s in response to the shift towards synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides in the early days of industrial agriculture by a relatively small group of farmers. These farmers came together in various associations: Demeter International of Germany, which encouraged biodynamic farming and began the first certification program, the Australian Organic Farming and Gardening Society,[1] the Soil Association of the United Kingdom, and Rodale Press in the United States, along with others. In 1972 these organizations joined to form the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). In recent years, environmental awareness has driven demand and conversion to organic farming. Some governments, including the European Union, have begun to support organic farming through agricultural subsidy reform. Organic production and marketing have grown at a fast pace.

The term “organic” can be broadly described as food grown without the assistance of man-made chemicals. The beginnings of the organic movement can be traced back to the beginning of the 1800s. In 1840 Justus Von Liebig developed a theory of mineral plant nutrition. Liebig believed that manure could be directly substituted for mineral salts. Many years later in 1910, preceding the First World War, chemists Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch developed an ammonia synthesis process, making use of nitrogen from the atmosphere. This form of ammonia had already been used to manufacture explosives, so after the war, it was implemented into the fertilization of agriculture.

Organic food was initially seen as a fad observed by the eccentric few, however today it has become more widespread. Organics have come to represent a safe house in a disturbing world where food quality and safety are constantly under siege” (Blythman). Today, whole foods stores have captured a significant share of the grocery shopping market, specifically, Whole Foods Market, Wild Oats, and others.

Organic food[edit]

Specifications for what may be classified as organic food may vary by location. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance the quality of the environment. Organic poultry and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides, fertilizers, bioengineering, and ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled ‘organic’, a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it reaches supermarkets and restaurants must be certified as well.


An early pioneer of the organic movement was John Battendieri who founded Santa Cruz Organics in 1972, which marketed some of the first packaged organic products.[2]

Atina Diffley and her husband ran an organic farm in Minnesota, through which the Minnesota Pipeline was originally planned to run. In 2007, Diffley, together with Paula Maccabee, a St. Paul environmental justice attorney, negotiated with the owners of the pipeline, the Minnesota Pipeline Company (MPL), as a result of which MPL agreed to route the pipeline around the farm and more generally "to implement what they believe was the first organic agriculture mitigation plan in the country applicable to pipeline infrastructure."[3]:32-22 The organic mitigation plan became a model for others around the U.S.[4] Difley went on to write a memoir, Turn Here Sweet Corn, which won the Minnesota Book Award for Memoir in 2013.[5] The Diffleys sold their farm in 2008 and as of 2012 Attina Diffley worked as a writer, consultant, and teacher.[6]


According to, the purchasing of organic food stuffs in has risen every year since 1990. Purchasing continues to gain among all income groups and races, and is gaining the most ground with women ages 25–35, white, & married demographic.[citation needed]

Organic companies[edit]

The recent interest in the organic industry has sparked the interest of many businesses from small local distributors to large companies that distribute many products nationally. The organic market is now a 14 billion dollar a year industry, that continues to grow especially from large corporations such as Wal-Mart that are now offering organic choices to their customers.[7] Other companies that offer organic options include General Mills and Kraft. Some large companies have bought smaller already established organic companies such as Earth’s Best, Rice Dream soy milk, Garden of Eatin', Celestial Seasonings and Health Valley.

Organic cosmetics[edit]

Cosmetic products that are made with organic ingredients are made without the use of harsh chemicals like pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fertilizers. The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) approved pesticides to be used long before research was done that now has linked these chemicals to cancer, and other diseases.[citation needed]

In order for cosmetics to truly be organic, the Organic Consumers Association suggests that all the cleaning and conditioning ingredients be made from organic materials, the manufacturing process should be simple and ecological. Non-agricultural water like floral water or botanical water should not be used on labeling because the majority of floral waters used in the cosmetics are the water by-product of essential oil distillation after all the essential oil has been removed.[citation needed]

However some floral waters in skin care products have been created using a distillation process using water only (which takes longer and is usually more expensive to buy and create) and no alcohol or synthetic surfactant ingredients are used to create this, therefore proving to be legitimately organic and created using a natural process.

Organic farming[edit]

Organic farm yields have been demonstrated to be comparable with conventional farm yields over the long-term, owing to superior performance under drought and inclement weather conditions.[8] Organic farming is different than conventional farming because crops that are grown organically are less forced into development of growth, which means that the time it takes for the crop to develop is generally slower.[citation needed] Organic farming uses a natural source of pesticides that does not pollute the environment.[citation needed] Animals that are raised in organic farms are not exposed to veterinary drugs such as antibiotics and hormones that enhance the growth of the animal.[9]


There have been multiple criticisms regarding organic food and organic marketing practices. A 2014 study by a non-profit academic think tank alleged consumers are "routinely deceived" by intentional and endemic misleading health claims in organic marketing.[10] Organic products typically cost 10% to 40% more than similar conventionally produced products.[11] According to the UK's Food Standards Agency, "Consumers may choose to buy organic fruit, vegetables and meat because they believe them to be more nutritious than other food. However, the balance of current scientific evidence does not support this view."[12] A 12-month systematic review commissioned by the FSA in 2009 and conducted at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine based on 50 years' worth of collected evidence concluded that "there is no good evidence that consumption of organic food is beneficial to health in relation to nutrient content."[13] Although the source of the organic movement was reportedly small family farms, large corporations have started distributing more organic products and certain categories of organic foods, such as milk, have been reported by Michael Pollan to be highly concentrated and predominantly sourced to mega-farms.[14]


Proponents of organic agriculture point to the environmental benefits of not using these often persistent and toxic chemicals.[citation needed] Organic farming also promotes greater biodiversity on farms, as the lack of poison allows species other than those being cultivated to inhabit the farms.

Groups such as IFOAM are active supporters of the organic movement throughout the world. They readily state their goals and are taking their idea to the world.

One of the IFOAM principles states: "Agriculture is one of humankind's most basic activities because all people need to nourish themselves daily. History, culture and community values are embedded in agriculture. The Principles apply to agriculture in the broadest sense, including the way people tend soils, water, plants and animals in order to produce, prepare and distribute food and other goods. They concern the way people interact with living landscapes, relate to one another and shape the legacy of future generations."[15]

"Several of the management practices evolved by the organic farming movement have a direct relevance to the battle to achieve food security. Examples include diversification and crop rotation, as well as the use of natural means to combat pests."

-Quote from Jacque Diouf, Director General of the FAO in IFOAM's 25th anniversary issue of its magazine Ecology & Farming.

IFOAM has been an FAO-accredited international organization since 1997.

In March 2002, IFOAM obtained observer status with UNCTAD, and in addition received classification in a special category to participate in the meetings of the Commission on Trade on Goods and Services and Commodities, the Commission on Enterprise, Business Facilitation and Development and the meetings of the UNCTAD Board.

“Organic agriculture can play an important role to achieve the goals of the Convention on Biodiversity, in the global context of the Millennium Development Goals, by significantly reducing the current rate of biodiversity loss. In addition, organic farming offers direct economic benefits to resource-poor farmers and thereby makes an important contribution to both poverty alleviation and sustainable development.”

-Statement made by UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer at the IFOAM Conference on Biodiversity and Organic Agriculture that UNEP co-hosted September 24–26, 2004 in Nairobi, Kenya.

IFOAM is an accredited international organization with UNEP, but that only one aspect of a more complex relationship between the two organizations.

In September 2004, UNEP hosted and jointly organized the Third International IFOAM Conference on Biodiversity and Organic Agriculture at the headquarters of UNEP in Nairobi, Kenya.

IFOAM and the UNEP are in the process of developing a three-year joint work program for biodiversity and organic agriculture in order to implement the recommendations resulting from the conference.


  • In the summer of 1924 Rudolf Steiner presented what has been called the first organic agriculture course to a group of over one hundred farmers and others at Koberwitz, now Kobierzyce, Poland.[16] In Germany Rudolf Steiner's Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture, published in 1924, led to the popularization of biodynamic agriculture, probably the first comprehensive organic farming system, that was based on Steiner's spiritual and philosophical teachings.
  • The first use of the term "organic farming" is by Lord Northbourne (aka Walter James, 4th Baron Northbourne). The term derives from his concept of "the farm as organism", which he expounded in his book, Look to the Land (1940), and in which he described a holistic, ecologically balanced approach to farming. Northbourne wrote of "chemical farming versus organic farming".
  • Sir Albert Howard's 1940 book, An Agricultural Testament, was influential in promoting organic techniques, and his 1947 book "The Soil and Health, A Study of Organic Agriculture" adopted Northbourne's terminology and was the first book to include "organic" agriculture or farming in its title.
  • In 1939, strongly influenced by Sir Howard's work, Lady Eve Balfour launched the Haughley Experiment on farmland in England. It was the first, side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional farming. Four years later, she published The Living Soil, based on the initial findings of the Haughley Experiment. It was widely read, and lead to the formation of a key international organic advocacy group, the Soil Association.
  • During the 1950s, sustainable agriculture was a research topic of interest. The science tended to concentrate on the new chemical approaches. In the U.S., J.I. Rodale began to popularize the term and methods of organic growing. In addition to agricultural research, Rodale's publications through the Rodale Press helped to promote organic gardening to the general public.
  • In 1962, Rachel Carson, a prominent scientist and naturalist, published Silent Spring, chronicling the effects of DDT and other pesticides on the environment drawing on the research of biodynamic agriculture advocates Marjorie Spock, Mary T. Richards and Ehrenfried Pfeiffer.[17] A bestseller in many countries, including the US, and widely read around the world, Silent Spring was instrumental in the US government's 1972 banning of DDT. The book and its author are often credited with launching the environmental movement.
  • In the 1970s, worldwide movements concerned with environmental pollution caused by persistent agrichemical increased attention on organic farming. One goal of the organic movement was to promote consumption of locally grown food, which was promoted through slogans such as "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food".
  • In 1972, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), was founded in Versailles, France. IFOAM was dedicated to the diffusion of information on the principles and practices of organic agriculture across national and linguistic boundaries.
  • In the 1980s, around the world, various farming and consumer groups began seriously pressuring for government regulation of organic production to ensure standards of production. This led to various legislation and certification standards being enacted through the 1990s and to date. Currently, most aspects of organic food production are government-regulated in the US and the European Union.
  • In the 2000s, the worldwide market for organic products (including food, beauty, health, bodycare, and household products, and fabrics) has grown rapidly. More countries are establishing formal, government-regulated certification of organic food: in 2002 in the US, in 2005 in China and projected for 2006 in Canada, among others. Monitoring and challenging certification rules and decisions have become a regular, high profile aspect of activists in the organic movement.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Paull, John "The Lost History of Organic Farming in Australia", Journal of Organic Systems, 2008, 3(2):2-17.
  2. ^ "Santa Cruz Organics". SCO Web site. Retrieved 2008-11-11. 
  3. ^ Macabee, Paula Goodman. Appendix to Agricultural Impact Mitigation Plan For Organic Agricultural Land.” Pipelines, Power Lines, and Organic Farms Drake Journal of Agricultural Law 14: 19-42. 2009.
  4. ^ Dan Heilman for the Minnesota Lawyer. March 23rd, 2012 Book details farmers’ legal victory over Koch Industries
  5. ^ Ann McKinnon for the The Friends of the Saint Paul Library. April 17, 2013 25th Annual Minnesota Book Award Winners Announced
  6. ^ Kim Palmer for the Star Tribune. April 18, 2012 Hey, soil sister: Atina Diffley
  7. ^ Clark, Georgia. "The New Horizon for Organics: A Market Outlook of the Effects of Wal-Mart on the International Organic Market". June 2007
  8. ^ Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial, 30-year report, 2012. <>
  9. ^ "Organic Farming." EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, Web. 22 Nov. 2012. <>.
  10. ^ Organics Exposed (Academics Review Organic Marketing Report 2014), by Steve Kopperud, Brownfield News, May 2, 2014.
  11. ^ Winter, CK and SF Davis, 2006 "Organic Foods" Journal of Food Science 71(9):R117–R124.
  12. ^ The Food Standards Agency’s Current Stance
  13. ^ Sophie Goodchild (2009-07-). "Organic food 'no healthier' blow". London Evening Standard. Retrieved 2009-07-29.  Check date values in: |date= (help)[dead link]
  14. ^ Naturally, by Michael Pollan, The New York Times Magazine, May 13, 2001.
  15. ^
  16. ^ Paull, John (2011) "Attending the First Organic Agriculture Course: Rudolf Steiner’s Agriculture Course at Koberwitz, 1924", European Journal of Social Sciences, 21(1):64-70.
  17. ^ Paull, John (2013) "The Rachel Carson Letters and the Making of Silent Spring", Sage Open, 3 (July):1-12.


  • The organic Agriculture: History and background is an excellent source for the origins of the organic movement. (
  • Blythman, J. (2005). The Trouble with Organics. Academic Search Complete, 35(6), 24-25
  • Miller. (2004). The Organic Myth. Ebscohost, Vol 56(2). 7-10.

External links[edit]

  • [1] - J. Paull, 2006, The Farm as Organism: The Foundational Idea of Organic Agriculture.
  • [2] - J. Paull, 2007, China's Organic Revolution.