Organic (or Bio) is universally appreciated, as a concept, but its application still has many limits. A strategy halfway between the organic and the traditional approach could be successful, but it needs a change in our food choices and lifestyle, a reduction in waste and greater respect for the environment.
Agriculture and organic farming aim at minimizing the impact on the environment, creating a respectful and safe economy. Scholars also hypothesize that organic agriculture is better able to adapt to climate change, thanks to the use of more resistant species that are suitable for the environment in which they are found. Agriculture and organic farming are governed by European Union regulations that define the guidelines and provide for control bodies in order to verify their implementation.
Some of the characteristics of organic foods are:
- Rotation of crops, so as to limit the impoverishment of the soil;
- Strict restrictions on the use of chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and antibiotics;
- Greater exploitation of resources already available on site (manure as fertilizer and production of feed directly on the farm);
- Use of animal and plant species that best adapt and resist the environment and the pathogens present;
- Outdoor farming and feeding with organic fodder;
- Use of ethical farming practices;
Despite the noble foundations of agriculture and organic farming, its application is often contested. The major limit of organic food is given by its low yields (up to a third lower than conventional agriculture) which requires an increase between 16% and 33% of the agricultural land to be used. This leads to an increase in soil erosion of about 20%, to the detriment of wooded areas. Furthermore, if it is true that organic farming has a lower environmental impact per unit of cultivated area, that per unit of product obtained can even become greater than that with conventional cultivation. For example, if for some products organic farming decreases the emission of greenhouse gases (olives and cattle), for other types of products the emission may even be higher (cereals, pigs and milk). It should also be emphasized that the organic approach brings with it greater risks in terms of food safety and the potential loss of entire crops and farms related to environmental and parasitic events.
Experts agree that there is a need to overcome the current limits in the biological approach by trying to (1) improve control over diseases, parasites and infectious herbs so as to reduce the risk of product loss; (2) obtain, through crossbreeding, species of plants and animals with characteristics that make them more suitable for the conditions of the surrounding environment, so as to increase yields; (3) develop technologies that make it possible to increase the supply of nutrients to organic soils, so as to limit the impact on soil erosion.
A total conversion to agriculture and organic farming is not feasible today. According to a recent publication, which appeared in the scientific journal “Nature Communications”, it would be possible to replace conventional agricultural production with organic production for a maximum of 60% without the disadvantages outweighing the advantages. But this would be feasible only on condition that drastic changes are introduced in the eating habits of the population, first of all by reducing the amount of food and the consumption of meat.
Finding a halfway strategy between the organic and the traditional approach could be what we need. The continuous growth of the organic market has highlighted the greater interest of citizens in this type of crop to the detriment of traditional techniques, a change motivated by greater awareness of the immediate need to safeguard the environment and health. Unfortunately, the road still seems exceedingly long and hard. With our food choices, our lifestyle, the reduction of waste and respect for the environment, we are all part of this change. They are often small gestures that allow for big changes.