Shabbat of Sanctity Dirshu’s 20th Anniversary International Convention

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By: Alyssa Elbogen

Given the controversy around the term“organic,” our community deserves to be fully educated. Only then can we judge for ourselves whether going organic is right for us. Though some believe it is a truly inspiring and revolutionary movement, others are more skeptical about it. To illustrate, the following is a fictional conversation based on the Official USDA’s (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture) “Introduction to Organic Practices.”

The Purist and The Skeptic
Analyze the Term “

Topic: Organic Crop Production Practices

Purist:The USDA organic regulations describe organic agriculture as: The application of a set of cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that support the cycling of on-farm resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. These include maintaining or enhancing soil and water quality; conserving wetlands, woodlands, and wildlife; and avoiding use of synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering.

Skeptic: “Avoiding use of…” Well, how strict are they?

Purist:Organic farming builds soil quality by adding compost, animal manures, or green manures. These convert to nutrients and create a humus that sustains soil quality by protecting soil from wind and water erosion. Organic producers are forbidden from using sewage sludge or bio-solids.

Skeptic:Sure, organic farmers use organic seeds and planting stocks most of the time, but they can use conventionally grown seeds when an equivalent organic variety is not available!

Moderator:Actually, they are prohibited from using GMO seeds or seeds treated with prohibited substances like fungicides.

Purist:Organic crop producers are required to practice crop rotation to interrupt insect life cycles, suppress soil-borne plant diseases, prevent soil erosion, build organic matter, fix nitrogen, and increase farm biodiversity. To manage pests, weeds, and diseases, organic farms rely on the PAMS strategy; Prevention, Avoidance, Monitoring, and Suppression. If suppression becomes necessary, producers will use mechanical and physical practices like releasing predatory insects to reduce pest populations or laying down a thick layer of mulch to smother weeds.

Skeptic:And as a last resort, producers can use an approved pesticide! That includes naturally occurring microorganisms, insecticides naturally derived from plants or one of a few approved synthetic substances.

Moderator:The fact is, as more natural alternatives are being discovered, synthetic substances are being slowly removed from that list.

Purist:Organic crop producers are required to prevent contact between organic and conventionally-grown crops or prohibited pesticides or fertilizers. They use buffer zones like hedgerows, crops separating them from roadways or conventional crops. Prohibited materials can’t be applied to land used for organic cultivation for a full three years!

TOPIC:Organic Livestock Production Practices

Purist:Organic livestock producers provide living areas that encourage the health and natural behavior of their animals. Practices reflect concerns for animal welfare. Animals must have access to outdoor areas, shade, shelter, exercise, fresh air, clean drinking water, and direct sunlight! Livestock shelters give animals protection from extreme temperatures, adequate air circulation and ventilation plus exercise space. Additionally, animals must have access to pasture during grazing season. They are prohibited from being continuously confined. Preventative health practices and systems are used, such as balanced nutrition, exercise and a low-stress environment. Antibiotics and growth-promoting hormones are prohibited. All this contributes to building strong immune systems in animals.

Skeptic:Vaccinations are permitted.

Purist: Livestock feed must be certified organic – pastures, forages,
plant-based bedding – everything!

Skeptic:Certain additives like vitamins and minerals not produced organically can be fed to organic livestock in trace amounts. Also, regarding animal origin, livestock is only required to be raised organically from the last third of gestation. Birds used for poultry or egg production can come from any source and must be raised organically beginning from their second day of life.

TOPIC: Organic Processing Practices:

Purist:No ingredients or products labeled “Organic” or “Made with Organic Ingredients” may be produced using genetic engineering, sewage sludge, or ionizing radiation. Neither can either of those labels contain any additives that are not approved for organic use.

Skeptic:Aside for the regulated additives, organic processors must use organic ingredients for a minimum of 95% of the product. Not 100%.

Moderator:Things like filtered water, sea salt,and baking soda that aren’t “certified” are included in that 5%, though they’re all technically organic.

Purist:Organic processors must always prevent commingling with
non-organic ingredients and products. So, too, contact must be prevented between the organic ingredients and non-organic substances, including prohibited sanitizers. They must clean and sanitize processing equipment when changing from non-organic to organic products.

Skeptic:In managing pests, if all other approaches have failed, organic processors may use an approved synthetic substance.

Moderator:Organic processors must ensure that those substances do not come in contact with the organic products.

Where do you fall when it comes to the organic lifestyle? Are you a purist or a skeptic? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Alyssa Elbogen is a certified Holistic Health Practitioner specializing in Detoxification
and Herbalism with a degree in Jewish Thought and English from the University of Haifa.
Ms. Elbogen works for Organic Circle in NYC and runs a private practice, Holistic Health Wisdom.