‘do no harm’ is no longer enough by Pam Denholm
The organic agricultural movement is nearly 80 years old. It was based on traditional farming practices that promoted the idea of working with nature by returning organic matter to the soil, and using deep rooted crops. The movement became popular in the 70s when environmental awareness increased, but certification was decentralized and varied from state to state. It was only 15 years ago, in 2002, that the USDA Certified Organic label was born.
Years later, we realize that the organic label still has its shortcomings. It doesn’t adequately address issues around soil health, water conservation, social fairness, or animal welfare. Although the number of organic farms has exploded since those early days, it still accounts for less than 1% of agricultural land in the United States.
We are barreling towards environmental catastrophe. Deforestation and conventional farming practices are destroying topsoil at an unprecedented rate, we need less pollution, more biodiversity, fewer threats to wildlife, healthier rivers, reduced risk to workers, and a reduction in environmentally linked respiratory diseases and cancers. ‘Sustainable’ is no longer good enough, we have to do better than just maintain a status quo, we need to regenerate, rebuild, renew.
Fortunately, a coalition of change-makers, brands, farmers, ranchers, nonprofits and scientists, all with a clear goal: to pave the way to an agricultural future focused on enriching the soil, while valuing people and animals have come together to form the Regenerative Organic Certification. Their approach does not replace the existing organic standards, but rather offers detailed guidance giving farmers the tools to implement regenerative organic practices that build soil health. The goals of the program are to:
- Increase organic matter in the soil over time, and potentially sequester carbon
- Improve animal welfare
- Provide economic stability and fairness to farmers, ranchers, and workers
- Create resilient regional ecosystems and communities
This is possible by focusing on three pillars:
- No/low tillage
- Cover crops and crop rotations
- Rotational grazing
- No synthetic chemicals or GMOs
- Promotes biodiversity, builds soil
- Five freedoms
- Grass fed/pastured
- No CAFO’s
- Suitable shelter
- Reduced transport distances
- Living wages
- No child or forced labor
- Maximum working hours
- Fair prices
- Long term commitments
This certification will be facilitated by NSF International, and builds on USDA Organic and other international organic labels.