What does "organic" mean?The term “organic” refers to the way agricultural products are grown and processed. While the regulations vary from country to country, in the U.S., organic crops must be grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes (GMOs), petroleum-based fertilizers, and sewage sludge-based fertilizers. Organic livestock raised for meat, eggs, and dairy products must have access to the outdoors and be given organic feed. They may not be given antibiotics, growth hormones, or any animal by-products.
In its pure form, maybe not. But elements of the organic philosophy are starting to be deployed in mainstream agriculture. Nature's reporters analyse this trend, assess the extent of organic farming worldwide, and frame the questions on which its wider adoption will depend.
If your politics are green, you like your medicine 'holistic' and you're deeply worried by economic globalization, the chances are your fridge is full of organic produce. Today, support for organic farming is frequently part of a bigger social and political mindset — one that holds that 'natural' is best, and that naked capitalism is a threat to the health of the planet and its people.
But the origins of organic agriculture, in 1940s Britain, are more down-to-earth. Its pioneers were concerned, above all else, about the soil beneath their feet. Their philosophy was centred on practices designed to improve the richness and stability of the soil by restoring its organic matter and avoiding syn...