There appears to be a lot of confusion on the part of consumers in the difference between organic and sustainable agriculture. Many think that organic means sustainable or sustainable means organic, when in fact, neither of these is the case. Sustainable does not mean organic and organic does not mean sustainable.
The important thing to remember is that organic agriculture CAN be sustainable, but it does not have to be sustainable. Organically grown produce and animals are sometimes produced on large farms that are not sustainable at all. Organic practices are focused mostly on the production aspect of farming, which is how the crops are grown and what products are used. Organic farms have to be certified by the USDA based on certain guidelines. The guidelines are that crops must be rotated and planted in different fields each year to replenish and maintain the nutrients in the soil. Cover crops, which are crops planted during off seasons, must also be used to maintain soil quality. Farmers cannot use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. They also cannot use crops that are genetically modified.
Organic farming also does not take into account the amount of land used to produce the product. Sustainable agriculture, however, takes land use into account as a major factor. Sustainable agriculture includes crops grown on smaller areas in which multiple crops are often grown together. This mix of crops can help control pests and diseases and enhance the soil quality.
The goal of sustainable agriculture is to grow crops and raise animals without using up all of the natural resources. It enhances our use in renewable natural resources, is economically responsible, and enhances the lives of producers and consumers. Sustainable farming is a way of life, rather than a set of guidelines. There are no set rules to sustainable farming, just small goals that help achieve the main goal of allowing mankind to live off the land and resources available without destroying them. One large difference which sustainable farming has that organic farming doesn’t is the ability to use antibiotics. Most sustainable farms won’t use antibiotics unless an animal is extremely sick. If they do use them, there is a withholding time in which milk or meat cannot be used for human consumption. The withholding time allows for the antibiotics to fully pass through the animal’s system before its products are consumed.
The other major element that differs between organic and sustainable farming is the distance food travels before consumption. Organic farming does not take into account how far food travels before it reaches your plate. In organic farming, the use of fossil fuels does not matter. Sustainable farming, however, attempts to greatly decrease the use of fossil fuels so there is heavy focus on producing goods and distributing them locally. This helps decrease the transportation costs, both economically and environmentally, and helps enhance the understanding of consumers about where their food comes from. The downside of this is that this leads to products only being available at certain times of the year, when they can be grown in your area.
Although sustainable agriculture and organic agriculture have elements that are similar, these two terms cannot be used interchangeably. It is important for consumers to understand this if they want to support specific elements they believe in. Organic agriculture appeals to some consumers because of the portrayal of benefits to health. Sustainable agriculture is beneficial for the future of the planet. My personal opinions aside, both of these types of agriculture can have benefits, but I believe that sustainable agriculture will ALWAYS be better than organic due to the nature of caring for the consumer, the producer, and the environment.
All sources for this article come from this website.