I often get asked, “will the core of agriculture really ever improve?” It’s not going to be easy but I believe that the growing number of people passionately engaged in changing the food system will eventually get us where we need to go.

Right now, it is hard to see everyone engaged because they are fragmented across many groups working on issues as diverse as food justice in developing countries, labour rights for agricultural workers, the environment, and animal welfare. Others sit within the various food and diet movements ranging from veganism to paleoism. While these groups on the surface appear to be pulling in myriad directions, they are all pulling away from the status quo. They all see something about the current system that they want to change.

I believe their similarities go deeper than just wanting change. While their tactics and strategies may differ, there is a set of common principles that can be found within the various food-related movements. The organic movement was founded on four principles that envelop most of the issues within the agriculture and food system. You might be surprised by what the founders of the organic movement were trying to accomplish. Unfortunately, the current codified set of rules fall far short of fulfilling the promise of the principles.

I’ve included the four principles as described on the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements’ website with some minor editing for length and to remove reference to specific practises so that we can focus on the principles. Regardless of what your role within the agriculture and food system is, I ask you to consider whether your beliefs and purpose are aligned with this set of principles. 

The food movement needs to coalesce along a common front and I think this might be the starting point. Those of you who have read Real Dirt will know that I have some serious reservations about the sustainability of some current certified organic practises. However, I think you will find that those practises are also at odds with the original principles of organic. I also think that most “conventional” farmers would sign up for these principles. 

Should we delete the word “organic” from this set of principles and just call them “Principles for  an Agricultural Regeneration?” 

Principle of Health

Organic Agriculture should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plant, animal, human and planet as one and indivisible.

This principle points out that the health of individuals and communities cannot be separated from the health of ecosystems - healthy soils produce healthy crops that foster the health of animals and people.
Health is the wholeness and integrity of living systems. It is not simply the absence of illness, but the maintenance of physical, mental, social and ecological well-being. Immunity, resilience and regeneration are key characteristics of health. 

The role of organic agriculture, whether in farming, processing, distribution, or consumption, is to sustain and enhance the health of ecosystems and organisms from the smallest in the soil to human beings. 

Principle of Ecology

Organic Agriculture should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them and help sustain them. This principle roots organic agriculture within living ecological systems. It states that production is to be based on ecological processes, and recycling. Nourishment and well-being are achieved through the ecology of the specific production environment. For example, in the case of crops this is the living soil; for animals it is the farm ecosystem; for fish and marine organisms, the aquatic environment.

Principle of Fairness

Organic Agriculture should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities. 

Fairness is characterized by equity, respect, justice and stewardship of the shared world, both among people and in their relations to other living beings.

This principle emphasizes that those involved in organic agriculture should conduct human relationships in a manner that ensures fairness at all levels and to all parties - farmers, workers, processors, distributors, traders and consumers. Organic agriculture should provide everyone involved with a good quality of life, and contribute to food sovereignty and reduction of poverty. It aims to produce a sufficient supply of good quality food and other products.

Principle of Care

Organic Agriculture should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner to protect the health and well-being of current and future generations and the environment.

Organic agriculture is a living and dynamic system that responds to internal and external demands and conditions. Practitioners of organic agriculture can enhance efficiency and increase productivity, but this should not be at the risk of jeopardizing health and well-being. Consequently, new technologies need to be assessed and existing methods reviewed. Given the incomplete understanding of ecosystems and agriculture, care must be taken.