One of the highest goals and claims of organic agriculture is to produces healthy and high quality food that differentiates itself through higher nutritional qualities, such as vitamins and minerals and lesser or no undesired compounds such as pesticides or genetically modified organisms. Food quality and health are core ideas and principles of organic farming. In her book the Living Soil, Eve Balfour emphasised the connections between wholeness and health, and between healthy soils, plants, animals and humans, to which we can add a health environment. This holistic approach to health remains a core part of the IFOAM principles, and of the Organic Research Centre’s mission. Since ORC was founded, we have engaged with the issue by means of colloquia and conferences, occasional research projects, and participation in the international Organic Food Quality and Health Association.
Despite the tremendous importance and high profile of health for agriculture, particularly organic agriculture, the definition of health in this context is currently either not well defined or subject to deep conceptual disagreements. This current lack of clarity creates a vacuum in which strong but potentially misleading claims about health benefits can be made, both by proponents and opponents of ecological agriculture.
Recent research focused on reviewing and developing health concepts for ecological agriculture. An open and open-ended dialogue among various agricultural disciplines, such as food quality science, soil science, plant pathology or veterinary medicine is initiated. These disciplines are at very different stages in the development of health concepts. In the search for commonalities and differences among disciplines, this dialogue will deliver a novel, unified, and comprehensive idea of health in organic agriculture.
One of our current projects aims to create an international network of producers, advisors and scientists to jointly develop new and interdisciplinary approaches to health measurement and health research in organic agriculture, ultimately improving health effects in the entire food system.
Three groups of best practice farmers from the UK, Germany and Austria met in Frankfurt (Germany) to discuss their own visions and principles with regards to health in agricultural systems. They assessed the common ground and differences between their groups and individual principles, as well as methods to improve health in the agricultural system.
An interdisciplinary and international workshop will be organised on one of the best practice farms in Germany. This workshop will discuss the recent project outcomes with a mixed group of scientists, advisors and farmers, to elaborate potential implications of newly identified farmer’s own principles of health and their strategies to improve health in their agricultural system.
ORC staff involved
Vieweger A and Döring T (2014). Assessing health in agriculture – towards a common research framework for soils, plants, animals, humans and ecosystems. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. (in press)
Döring T, Vieweger A, Pautasso M, Vaarst M, Finckh M and Wolfe M (2014). Resilience as a universal criterion of health. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. (in press)
Woodward L. (1998) Consumer perceptions of organic food quality. Elm Farm Research Centre, Newbury
Woodward L, Fleming D & Vogtmann H (1996) Health, sustainability and the global economy: the organic dilemmaa