This review provides an introduction to organic farming, its history and concepts, organic certification systems and governmental support, impacts to the environment and food security, the quality of organic food, and the impact of organic farming on human health. Organic farming is a holistic approach to agriculture and food systems that is based on agroecosystem health, soil fertility, reduction of inputs, and locally to regionally adapted farming systems. The first organic ideas were developed after World War I in Europe as an alternative to the existing conventional farming systems which induced rapid and crucial social and environmental changes in rural areas. Today, organic farming is growing rapidly on a global scale, with around 370 million hectares currently under certified organic management and a turnover of organic products amounting to 60 billion US dollars. Given that organic farming has environmental benefits, some governments are subsidizing organic farmers, while others establish legally valid organic standards that must be followed to enhance consumer trust in organic labeling.Many recent studies comparing organic and conventional farming have been performed, although almost exclusively in North America and Europe. These studies show that environmental impacts of organic farming are less than those from conventional farming, but the conclusions depend on the different farming systems used for comparison and on the parameters that were assessed. For soil parameters such as organic matter or aggregate stability, the effect from organic farming systems was positive compared to conventional farming systems, although contrary results exist in some cases. For nitrate leaching, study results are diverse and depend on production systems (animal husbandry, crop production, proportion of legumes). For greenhouse gas emissions, organic farming provides lower emissions on a per hectare basis compared to conventional farming, but the same or higher emissions on a product basis because of lower yields. If the yield gap between organic and conventional farming systems could be reduced, the potential for a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions would rise. Organic farming performed better with regard to biodiversity compared to conventional farming for most taxa assessed. The impact of organic farming on food security cannot be clearly assessed because studies on the performance of organic farming in developing countries are lacking. Currently, some authors argue that organic farmers in developing countries profit from organic production if they can realize a price premium for the products and reduce input costs.One of the most important consumer motivations for the purchase of organic products is their health benefits. Organic products performed better than conventional products for different food compounds by containing less pesticide residues that are harmful to human health, having more desirable bioactive substances, and in the case of organic meat and milk, having more desirable fatty-acid composition. Animal experiments have shown positive health impacts from organic food. Several studies conducted on rats have indicated higher immune system reactivity in organically fed rats compared to conventionally fed animals. Similar results have been obtained for chickens and cows.The rapid growth of organic farming also can be a threat to future development if the organic sector cannot maintain its integrity and credibility. Organic products are available not only in farmer markets but in on-farm shops and organic food stores and are becoming increasingly present in conventional supermarkets. This involves long supply-chains, large suppliers, as well as processing, distribution, and trade via conventional processors and wholesalers. This conventionalization of organic food-chains may challenge the credibility of the organic sector as an environmentally friendly and socially fair form of agriculture. As the organic sector depends very much on this credibility, the question of how to retain this authenticity will be a major concern for the future.

Full Text

Published Version
Open DOI Link

Get access to 115M+ research papers

Discover from 40M+ Open access, 2M+ Pre-prints, 9.5M Topics and 32K+ Journals.

Sign Up Now! It's FREE

Talk to us

Join us for a 30 min session where you can share your feedback and ask us any queries you have

Schedule a call