With all the talk about local, organic, natural, and biotech, it’s enough to make someone’s head spin! Probably not many would have predicted that these terms would be important to consumers, but we have become a country focused on food. And not just taste (although taste is still the most important factor in consumers’ food and beverage purchase decisions, according to the latest IFIC Foundation Food & Health Survey) – where our food comes from and how it’s produced have been topics of increasing interest. It’s not uncommon for food issues to be discussed at the dinner table or around the water cooler
Here are some food production facts to help untangle the often-confusing web of agriculture and food production jargon, some of which might surprise you:
- Local: Local food (also regional food or food patriotism) or the local food movement is a “collaborative effort to build more locally based, self-reliant food economies – one in which sustainable food production, processing, distribution, and consumption is integrated to enhance the economic, environmental and social health of a particular place.” It is considered to be a part of the broader sustainability movement. It is part of the concept of local purchasing and local economies, a preference to buy locally produced goods and services. A USDA publication called it “a geographical concept related to the distance between food producers and consumers. In addition to geographic proximity of producer and consumer, however, local food can also be defined in terms of social and supply chain characteristics.” Those who prefer to eat locally grown/produced food sometimes call themselves locavores or localvores.
- Organic foods are foods that are produced using methods that do not involve modern synthetic inputs such as synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers, do not contain genetically modified organisms, and are not processed using irradiation, industrial solvents, or chemical food additives. For the vast majority of human history, agriculture can be described as “organic”; only during the 20th century was a large supply of new synthetic chemicals introduced to the food supply. The organic farming movement arose in the 1940s in response to the industrialisation of agriculture known as the Green Revolution. The weight of the available scientific evidence has not shown a significant difference between organic and more conventionally grown food in terms of safety, nutritional value, or taste. Organic food production is a heavily regulated industry, distinct from private gardening. Currently, the European Union, the United States, Canada, Japan and many other countries require producers to obtain special certification in order to market food as “organic” within their borders. In the context of these regulations, “organic food” is food made in a way that complies with organic standards set by national governments and international organisations. In the United States, organic production is a system that is managed in accordance with the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) of 1990 and regulations in Title 7, Part 205 of the Code of Federal Regulations to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. If livestock are involved, the livestock must be reared with regular access to pasture and without the routine use of antibiotics or growth hormones. In most countries, organic produce may not be genetically modified. It has been suggested that the application of nanotechnology to food and agriculture is a further technology that needs to be excluded from certified organic food. The Soil Association (UK) has been the first organic certifier to implement a nano-exclusion.[
- Modern: Today, most foods in the United States are produced using modern farming practices. Farmers engaged in many types of food production, from organic to modern to biotechnology, use renewable resources and employ conservative soil and water techniques in food production to improve sustainability and reduce the environmental impact of farming.
- Biotechnology: According to FDA, USDA, and EPA, foods produced through biotechnology are identical and are no less nutritious than foods produced through other methods. Biotechnology can also help decrease food loss and the amount of pesticides used in farming through the development of tolerant crop
- Processed is a broad category of foods that consumers commonly associate with being less nutritious and/or containing artificial ingredients or other added substances. However, this category also includes fresh, “natural,” organic, and other “healthful” foods. Once a crop is harvested, it may go through many processes, such as freezing, canning, pasteurization, fortification, etc. Because of innovations in food processing and technology, it is possible to have foods that are convenient, affordable, good-tasting, and stay at their peak of quality longer
- Biodynamic agriculture is a method of organic farming that treats farms as unified and individual organisms, emphasising balancing the holistic development and interrelationship of the soil, plants and animals as a self-nourishing system without external inputs insofar as this is possible given the loss of nutrients due to the export of food. As in other forms of organic agriculture, artificial fertilizers and toxic pesticides and herbicides are strictly avoided. There are independent certification agencies for biodynamic products, most of which are members of the international biodynamics standards group Demeter International. Regarded by some as the first modern ecological farming system and one of the most sustainable, biodynamic farming has much in common with other organic approaches, such as emphasizing the use of manures andcomposts and excluding of the use of artificial chemicals on soil and plants. Methods unique to the biodynamic approach include the use of fermented herbal and mineral preparations as compost additives and field sprays and the use of an astronomical sowing and planting calendar. Biodynamics originated out of the work of Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy