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What caracterizes organic?

“Organic” designates holistic and sustainable high-quality food production using methods of farming the soil that are as respectful as possible. Chemical fertilisers and plant-protection products as well as genetic modification are prohibited. Whether it be dairy cattle, pork or poultry, all animals must be treated in the proper manner. This means that they have enough space, that they can go outside, benefit from fresh air, receive high-quality organic fodder and can live according to their needs. Prophylactic treatment with antibiotics and the administering of growth hormones are prohibited.

Organic products are some of the most controlled foodstuffs there are. The finished products are free from artificial colours, preservatives and flavour enhancers, since the processing of organic food is also subject to strict rules. This is clearly noticeable in the flavour.

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Crop growth

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Conventional farming

In conventional farming, monocultures have come to dominate for economic reasons: often, only one crop variety will be cultivated over large areas for several years, for example only cereals or maize. However, identical crops always use the same nutrients from the soil and therefore reduce its potential yield in the long term. Furthermore, monocultures favour the adaptability and resistance of weeds, parasites and phytopathogens. The response to these problems is often to use pesticides and fertilisers more intensively, which exhausts the soils even more and ends up making them infertile.

Organic farming

Obtaining a fertile soil is the primary aim of organic farming. Generally speaking, different varieties of cereals and vegetables are grown side by side in mixed crops, and crops are rotated. The crops, which generally change every year, guarantee soil fertility and stimulate the formation of humus, which is so important for the storage of water and nutrients. Furthermore, crop rotation helps to reduce weeds and parasites, since the crops’ growing conditions never stop changing.

Growing legume crops as part of crop rotation is a key element of organic farming. Thus a mix of clover and grass stabilises the earth, since the legumes fix nitrogen from the air and make this important plant nutrient naturally available to subsequent crops, like soft wheat.

Crop protection

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Conventional farming

Conventional farming depends on a whole series of synthetic chemical plant-protection products. In Germany alone, more than 250 active ingredients are permitted. Insecticides, fungicides and herbicides are used to combat animal and plant parasites, but they threaten not just useful insects that are naturally present, but also the principal food source of many birds and insects. While the efficacy of pesticides diminishes due to an accrued resistance to pests, their presence remains detectable in the soil even after several decades due to their non-biodegradable nature, and residues are transmitted into the environment and the food chain by water and air. Neonicotinoids are particularly controversial because of the risk they pose to honeybees and wild bees.

Organic farming

Organic crop protection strengthens the plants’ natural defences. The choice of site and varieties, sowing at the right time, mixed crops and crop rotation combat parasites, disease and weeds in a natural way. In addition, the reduction of parasites, the use of natural preparations designed to strengthen the plants, and mechanical measures such as hoeing, combing or flame weeding have come to be considered as effective standard practices. The total renouncement of synthetic chemical pesticides reduces soil and surface water pollution. But that's not all: useful insects, like ladybirds and earwigs, which eat aphids and spider mites, as well as pollinators and earthworms are protected from chemical products. The same goes, of course, for all the individuals working in farming. It is not always possible to avoid pesticide residues in organic food due to external pollution of land farmed in the conventional manner, but the measured values are well below the levels found in conventional crops.

Fertilization

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Conventional farming

Like pesticides, synthetic chemical fertilizers are a billion-dollar business controlled by international chemical companies and are widely used in conventional agriculture. Although plants need growth-promoting nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, they can only absorb a certain amount of them. Whatever is too much gets into the soil and upsets its nutrient dynamics. On intensively used agricultural land and around farms with excessive or "landlocked" livestock, increased nitrate levels are also found in soil and water. One reason for this is urine and excrement of farm animals. This actually valuable natural farm manure is increasingly becoming a so-called "liquid manure problem": an environmentally friendly management of the daily amount is hardly feasible. But nitrate - the source of the health-endangering nitrite - does not only come from animal excrements. It is also released from the purchased, easily water-soluble mineral fertilizers and enters streams, rivers and other surface waters to finally enter groundwater, where it is converted into nitrite and contaminates drinking water. In addition, every form of over-fertilisation leads to the mass reproduction of algae and thus damages the health of humans and animals.

Organic farming

A fundamental difference to conventional agriculture is that the aim is not the short-term increase in productivity, i.e. the isolated supply of nutrients to the plant, but the fertility of the soil. This can be increased by changing crop rotations, growing nitrogen-providing legumes (legumes), ploughing under nitrogen-containing plants (green manure) and applying organic fertilizers such as compost, manure, slurry and liquid manure. The number of mineral fertilizers permitted in organic farming is minimal. They may only be used on the basis of soil analyses and, where there is a proven need, after approval by an official organic inspection body. Chemical-synthetic nitrogen fertilizers (ammonium and nitrate), Chilean nitrate and urea as well as easily soluble phosphorus fertilizers are not permitted at all.

Through the responsible use of fertilizers in organic farming, significantly less nitrogen enters the soil. Organic livestock farming also causes less pollution, as the number of farm animals is tied to the farm's own feed areas. This means that only as many nutrients are spread in manure and slurry as can be absorbed by the plants. In this way, high external costs are avoided, which arise from the use of fertilisers and pesticides in conventional agriculture and are paid by the general public, e.g. for water control and treatment.

Stock farming

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Conventional farming

Small-scale stock farming has to a large extent given way to factory farming. In this type of stock farming, the quantity and price of meat production are absolute, the result of which is stock farming adapted solely to economic criteria. Its logical corollary is the high number of animals, the lack of space, animal suffering – namely the onset of pain, harm or behavioural problems – and industrialised processes from birth to slaughter, as well as the mass use of various medicines. In particular, the prophylactic antibiotics and probiotics used may pass from manure into the soil and into water courses and, as a result, harm the environment, as well as promoting resistance in the food chain, which also makes certain medicines ineffective for humans.

Organic farming

In organic farming, the cycle between the soil, the plant, the animal and the human being must, as far as possible, be a closed loop. Here, stock farming is hugely important, because animal manure contains nutrients that are essential to plant growth. In order to avoid excessive pollution of soil and water, the organic philosophy is based on the closest possible link between stock farming and growing fodder, so the head of livestock and, therefore, the pollution of the environment per unit of area will be dramatically reduced.

The animals are raised in the best way possible, from birth to slaughter. They must, therefore, be able to live according their natural behaviour and have access to outside space or areas of pasture. Slatted housing systems are prohibited. The animals are fed on a mainly organic diet, in principle GMO-free, which comes from either the farm or from a cooperating farming operation. As an exception, for example when certain qualities of protein in the organic fodder are not available, conventional fodder may be purchased. However, heavily enriched fodder for the purpose of weight gain is prohibited. Animal diseases are not treated by prophylactics or antibiotics, but by plant-based and homeopathic remedies.

Diversity of species

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Conventional farming

In general, besides the method and intensity of crops, the number of different living environments is the deciding factor in the diversity of species. The intensification and industrialisation of conventional farming, and its secondary effects like monocultures, the increased exploitation of the land, the consolidation of the soil, the fragmentation of the countryside, the use of large machines and the acceleration of climate change, have an immediate impact on fauna and flora. In conventional farming, extensive recourse to pesticides and synthetic nitrogen fertilisers also reduces biodiversity.

Organic farming

Diversified and mixed crops promote general biodiversity on organic land. Crop diversity, distinguished in particular by the choice of ancient varieties such as engrain and emmer, supports biodiversity and hence the stability of the ecosystem. Abandoning synthetic plant-protection chemicals, coupled with low levels of fertiliser, allows animal and plant diversity to develop further. Organic farmers contribute much more to biodiversity than their conventional farming counterparts. In fact, its has been proved that they maintain areas like hedges, meadows, pastures, wild flower strips and fallow land in their almost natural state, allowing insects, birds and small game to live in harmony with farming. Studies show that these areas welcome many more species of animal and plant than conventionally farmed areas, a large number of which are endangered.

Genetic engeneering

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Conventional farming

In genetic engineering, entirely new methods are used to cultivate new agricultural species. It is therefore possible to integrate portions of animal or human genes into agricultural plants. Processes like that have no place in nature. The mass recourse to genetic engineering in conventional farming has, for example, led to the fact that half of the soya grown in the world is now genetically modified. The impact on humans and the environment is difficult to assess, particularly because genetic intervention may lead to undesirable changes to genetic heritage. Everything referred to as “biotechnology” has been developed by a handful of multinationals that are making farmers more and more dependent.

Organic farming

The active use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is prohibited according to the European Organic Production Regulation. Genetically modified (GM) crops or crops derived from GMOs cannot be used as food, fodder, adjuvants, plant-protection products, fertilisers or seeds. Instead, organic farmers work with robust plant varieties or animal races, cultivated or raised in a natural way, and with their potential not genetically modified. In addition, the growth of fixed and reproducible varieties of fruit and vegetables in the organic world is becoming more and more important. Despite the strict prohibition on GMOs, unintentional mixtures of genetically modified organisms due to cross-contamination and the uncontrollable nature of GMOs cannot always be avoided one hundred percent, even in organic food. Here, the principle of polluter pays doesn't apply.

Climatic impact

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Conventional farming

Climate change due to greenhouses gases is a problem on a global scale that also poses real challenges to farming due to the changes in temperature and rainfall. Farming emits three greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O) and methane (CH4). Globally, farming is responsible for around 13% of these gases. Most carbon emissions are mainly due to the large amounts of energy used in the production of mineral fertilisers and chemical pesticides. To produce a kilo of nitrogen, around two litres of petrol are needed. Nitrous oxide emissions (around 300 times more harmful than CO2) are mainly linked to the use of nitrogen fertilisers and the storage of manure. Methane (25 times more harmful than CO2) is emitted during the storage of manure or slurry and occurs, in particular, during the digestive process in ruminants, mainly cattle. A low-fibre diet designed to fatten up animals in conventional farming and higher livestock levels in factory farming increase methane emissions.

Organic farming

The ban on pesticides and synthetic chemical fertilisers reduces the consumption of energy and greenhouse gases such as CO2or nitrous oxide. Permanent pastures, which are used in particular for feeding ruminants, fix the CO2 and thereby make a significant contribution to agriculture and climate protection. In addition, organic soils, due to their higher humus levels, can also fix the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. A reduced number of animals due to free-range farming is the most effective way of reducing methane emissions. On another note, green fodder that is rich in nutrients and easily digestible also helps reduce methane emissions.

Processing

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Conventional farming

Conventional food often contains more than one would imagine, and often less than it really should. If we take into account all the colours, flavour enhancers, preservatives, acidity regulators, sweeteners, emulsifiers, stabilisers, thickeners, gelling agents and other permitted anti-caking agents, this brings us to a total of almost 400 additives in Europe. Most of them are indicated on the product with the simple mention of the famous European “E number”. A number of these additives affect the flavour, consistency and appearance of the food to such an extent that consumers are used to this standardised taste and only see, smell or taste the difference from food processed in a natural way if they get the chance to compare them directly. Recourse to these preserving methods starts with harvest in conventional farming, with the irradiation of fruit and vegetables using ionised rays to disinfect them and preserve them for longer.

Organic farming

Unlike in the production of conventional products, the European Organic Production Regulation guarantees not only the food safety of the finished product, but also a certified production chain from farmer to merchant. In the case of processed products, only a minimum of additives that are absolutely necessary comes into play. In total, only around a tenth of the additives permitted in conventional farming are also permitted in organic farming, and certain private associations such as Demeter use even fewer.

All organic products are free from artificial colours, flavour enhancers, artificial and “identical to natural” flavours, as well as sweeteners and stabilisers. This makes the list of ingredients much clearer and easier to understand. Treatment with ionised rays is not permitted in organic farming. Additives and adjuvants can only be used if it has been proved that the organic foods concerned cannot do without them. In those instances we use plant-based thickeners, bicarbonate of soda or emulsifiers without which certain goods could not be produced. Natural flavours and named fruit flavour extracts are permitted for certain products on a case-by-case basis. The addition of vitamin or mineral additives is only permitted in specific circumstances, for example in the production of health foods or baby foods.