There have always been farmers and observers of farming who have argued in favor of the preservation of the fertility of the land rather than on current season production. Here is a brief history of the development of the US organic “movement” and the organic “industry” (two different things!) over the past century or so:
- Pre-1940 – During this period the first awakening of interest in what is now called “organic” agriculture began in the USA. It had begun earlier in Europe and England, but did not gain momentum in the USA until the 1960s. It could be said that the “fathers” of this movement were Rudolph Steiner of Germany, and later, Albert Howard of England. Though they did not agree on many matters, both inspired the man considered the father of this movement in the USA, J.I. Rodale; he in turn inspired many others.
- 1940-1960 – The movement grew, coincidentally (though not as strongly), with the growth of (by then) conventional agricultural methods using fertilizers and chemicals developed as an offshoot of war research for the first and second World Wars. During the 1950s, some elements of this movement were closely associated with the “Cold War,” and even today there is a small percentage of American organic farmers who hold isolationist and xenophobic views.
- 1960-1970 – But during the cultural upheaval of the 1960s organic agriculture was adopted by some of the most progressive and internationalist elements of American society, and they are still dominant within the movement. Now aged in their 70s and 80s, many of these people were not farmers by birth, and they brought a new perspective to the practice, and many of them are still involved in the field.
- 1970-1980 – One problem the organic movement faced in it efforts to supplant the conventional food systems was that because of the size of the USA and the range of climates, each region had different problems, and thus different practices and principles, even though all were focused on the same goal.
- 1980-1990 – The first step to solving this problem was to develop state, or regional standards that had the force of law. Many of the original producers, who had formed the original private groups, were unhappy about the involvement of the government in the certification of organic methods, but a majority felt that it was necessary if the movement was to grow further (this conflict continues today). The creation of regional and state standards had the effect of facilitating regional growth of organic production and distribution, but by the late 1980s pressure had built enough that a national standard was proposed. Finally, in 1990, the Organic Foods Production Act was passed, which set in motion the certification of organic production on a nationwide basis.
- 1990-2000 – This legislation created the National Organic Program (NOP) and its governing body, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), an appointed 15 member advisory board that has statutory responsibility for the list of materials that are approved for use in certified organic production. Development of this list – the National Standard – was very slow. It took seven years, and when it was released in 1997, three elements of the list provoked an immediate firestorm of outrage. Those items, proposed to be allowed on organic farms, were irradiation, sewage sludge, and genetically engineered crops and animals. Though there were only about 5,000 organic farms in the USA at the time, the NOSB received 275,000 complaints.
- October 2002 – It took another three years for the NOSB to resolve these issues, but it did. After all the public notice requirements and such were taken care of, the final law went into effect in October of 2002.