The word has different definitions for agriculture, chemistry, and medicine. Talking just about agriculture, it refers to a process that is entirely nature-based. In chemistry, the opposite of organic is “inorganic”. In agriculture, the opposite of organic is “conventional”.
Of course the seeds are natural, but organic seeds are not treated with synthetic fungicides. Once the seeds sprout and start growing, there are pests in the form of weeds, insects, and fungi that may need attention, and there is the issue of soil health to consider. In organic agriculture, the soil is built up with natural fertilizers, and insect pests and weeds are controlled with natural rather than synthetic substances. There is still a misconception that no pesticides are used in organic agriculture. The accurate statement is that no synthetic pesticides are used.
Organic agriculture also rejects genetic engineering. There is widespread misuse of “genetically modified” where “genetically engineered” is intended. Genetic modification has been used for millennia, and classical breeding by cross pollination falls into this category. Early on we saw the birds and insects carrying out this process, then we started brushing pollen ourselves. You can consider it a shotgun approach, as this pollen has in it somewhere a trait I want, and if I bombard this other plant with it, maybe I’ll get what I’m looking for. Genetic engineering, on the other hand is a slight improvement on the shotgun technology in that individual genes can be isolated. The shotgun approach still applies, only now only the genes of interest are introduced and maybe they will stick where it matters and produce what I want. Now, not being a Luddite,I say there is nothing wrong with improving the ancient technique. Where it goes wrong in my mind is in introducing genes not found in any species of a plant family. This is called transgenics, and in my opinion and the opinion of many others, this enters dangerous ground. The introduction, for example, of the bacterium Bacillus thurengiensis, also known as Bt, into cotton, corn, and some other crops is problematic. Bt has been used for years as an effective insect control in organic agriculture. Its introduction into the plants themselves brings up questions of creating resistance in insects in the field and in the effects on gut and oral bacteria from ingesting the food crops. For these reasons, organic agriculture rejects the use of “GM” seeds.
Besides the valiant attempt not to disrupt the balance of nature, which monocropping does by its very nature, support of organic agriculture also has a significant political aspect. Not to pop that big bubble you are blowing right into your face and hair, BUT the history of slavery follows very closely the history of textile production, from ancient times to the present. There are other aspects that you should be aware of as well, including global trade policies related to agricultural products.
Consider these points:
1. Organic farmers do not receive farm subsidies in the U.S.
2. Farm subsidies are a major sticking point in all global trade agreements, and the U.S. presses unfair advantage on smaller producers. Unfair trade policies increase rage against the U.S. and work against peace among nations.
3. Organic cotton production in the U.S.in 2012 was under 0.1% of the total domestic cotton production.
Take this away: .1% is not enough to make a dent in world peace.
How you can help: Wage peace by the power of your purse, by including a mere 10% organic cotton content in your cotton purchases. Increase this by 1 or 2% each following year. If you can’t increase, try not to slide backwards. Let the companies you buy from know that you want organic cotton.
Some notes: India is the largest producer of organic cotton, and the U.S. is 6th. I use domestic organic cotton in my products, partly because shipping from Texas to North Carolina has a smaller carbon footprint than bringing fiber in from Asia, and partly because I really want organic cotton farms in the U.S. to succeed. Today most of my products have at least 25% organic cotton content. Some things I can’t get in organic cotton yet, and some things are more expensive than I believe will sell.
I invite you on the journey-- it won’t be a hayride, but it shouldn’t be too bumpy, either.