Is the battle over what qualifies as “organic” food affecting farming?

Few things rile food and agriculture folks more than talking about what constitutes organic and genetically modified foods. Most people have no idea what these labels or terms mean (that, of course, didn’t stop Americans from spending $56 billion on organic produce in 2020). The federal government awards the organic label to food grown and processed without synthetic fertilizer or pesticides, but farmers and lobbying groups have been fighting over various parts of the law governing organic production for decades, particularly what’s included and what’s not. Genetically modified organisms (GMO) crops are not considered organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And that, Leah Garden writes in The Daily Beast, could have significant ramifications for global efforts to deal with climate change, population growth, and other challenges to food security. She points out that while consumers tend to think organic = natural = good, organic farming can require excessive land use and thereby contribute to increased carbon emissions. And on the other side, she argues that often vilified biotechnology could help with crop resilience, decrease soil erosion, and ease climate change adaptations—all key needs in this age of upheaval. But long story short, wherever you fall in the GMO and organic debates: There’s no easy answer in this take on the limitations of current and complicated labeling policy. —Jessica Terrell

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