Definition of Organic

What Is Organic?

Technically speaking, the term organic refers to any chemical compound that is comprised of animal or plant-based components as well as compounds of carbon. Organic matter, on the other hand, is any organism that is capable of decaying naturally. For the purposes of ecolife’s dictionary, we will be talking about organic in terms of farming practices and food certification.

Organic as an agricultural practice is one that is more sustainable and environmentally friendly and adheres to set standards as defined by certain governing bodies. The Canadian General Standards Board defines organic production this way: Organic production is a holistic system designed to optimize the productivity and fitness of diverse communities within the agro-ecosystem, including soil organisms, plants, livestock and people. The principal goal of organic production is to develop enterprises that are sustainable and harmonious with the environment.[1]

The European Commission on Organic Farming defines organic farming as follows: Put simply, organic farming is an agricultural system that seeks to provide you, the consumer, with fresh, tasty and authentic food while respecting natural life-cycle systems.[2]

The Organic Trade Association defines the term organic production this way: Organic production is based on a system of farming that maintains and replenishes soil fertility without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers. Organically produced foods also must be produced without the use of antibiotics, synthetic hormones, genetic engineering and other excluded practices, sewage sludge, or irradiation. Cloning animals or using their products would be considered inconsistent with organic practices.  Organic foods are minimally processed without artificial ingredients, preservatives, or irradiation to maintain the integrity of the food.[3]

And the USDA National Organic Program works with the following definition for organic agriculture: Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony.

As you can see, the definitions for organic are diverse, though they all point to the same general principle of creating agricultural systems that work in harmony with the environment and protect human health in the process. Some of the common principles applied to organic farming practices include:

  • Crop rotation, biological control, and other non-chemical means of controlling insects, diseases, and weeds
  • Strict limits on the use of chemical synthetic pesticides and fertilizers as well as livestock antibiotics, food additives, and processing aids
  • Prohibition of the use of genetically modified organisms
  • Making use of on-site resources like livestock manure or locally grown feed
  • Using species of plants and animals that are naturally resistant to disease and pests
  • Providing free-range living conditions for livestock, including open-air systems and organic feed
  • Employing animal husbandry practices
  • Using cover crops, green manures, and animal manures to fertilize soil and stimulate natural biological activity
  • Emphasizing biodiversity within the agricultural systems as well as with the local environment
  • Focus on renewable resources such as water and soil in order to restore losses, maintain reserves, and stimulate a better natural balance within the ecosystem


1. Organic Production Systems General Principles and Management Standards. (2006). Retrieved November 10, 2010, from Canadian General Standards Board:

2. What is organic farming?(n.d.). Retrieved November 10, 2010, from European Commission on Organic Farming:

3. Organic Agriculture and Production. (n.d.). Retrieved November 10, 2010, from Organic Trade Association:

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