The Origins of Organic Farming and Organic Standards

The following is a good explanation of the beginning of the use of the word ORGANIC regarding farming and growing.  It is taken from the beginning pages of the UK Soil Association Standards which you can find online.

Three different strands contributed to the founding of organic farming.

  • Rudolf Steiner delivered a series of eight lectures to a group of farmers in Austria in 1924.  These Lectures defined biodynamic agriculture and the Demeter symbol was created in 1927 to identify foods grown by these methods.
  • Lady Eve Balfour was inspired by the work of Sir Albert Howard (on composting and agricultural health) and Sir Robert McCarrison (on diet and human health), both working in India. She started the Haughley Experiment on her farm in Suffolk researching the links between the health of soil, plants and animals within different closed systems. Based on this work she wrote The Living Soil in 1943 – the book that stimulated the founding of the Soil Association in 1946.
  • Also in the ’40s, Hans and Maria Müller together with Hans-Peter Rusch developed a natural approach to farming and soil fertility in Switzerland particularly using rock dusts.

However, JI Rodale in the USA actually coined the term ‘organic’ in 1942 when he started publishing the magazine Organic Gardening.

Despite their differences these founding strands shared an underlying basis:

The concept of the farm as a living organism, an integrated whole.

The concept of a living soil as the basis of health right up the food chain.

The whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

So although organic farming involves and develops simple traditional agricultural practices, it is very different and involves a great deal more. Organic farming is not necessarily a low input system, as it aims to maximise the farm’s own inputs. As few inputs as possible from outside the farm are used.

The origins of organic standards

Apart from Demeter, there was no formal definition or recognition of organic farming until the 1960s. The Soil Association was the first, publishing its ‘standards for organically grown food’ as four pages of guidelines in its magazine Mother Earth. The standards ended with a ‘declaration of intent’ for those prepared to subscribe to them. In 1973 the Soil Association took the next step and formed the Soil Association Organic Marketing Company Limited as a wholly owned subsidiary. Initially its role was to market products grown to the Soil Association standards. However, it soon dropped marketing to concentrate on certification. Through the ’70s and early ’80s the inspection element was informal and cursory, but this gradually changed as the organic method of production became more prominent. Later, to reflect this change, the company changed its name to Soil Association Certification Limited (SA Certification).


In 1972 Lady Eve Balfour, JI Rodale and a number of others formed the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), recognising the international nature of organic farming. Their aim was to bring together the various movements and to share information across language, cultural and geographic boundaries. It produced its first ‘basic’ standards (for information and education, not certification) in 1980, currently known as SOIL ASSOCIATION ORGANIC STANDARDS AUGUST 2017.  By the late ’80s the organic market was sufficiently strong that governments started to take an interest, wishing to protect the consumer from possible fraud.

I hope you found this interesting and you could continue reading more if you go the Soil Associations website.

Today – What is Certified Organic?

Organic produce is grown and processed without the use of synthetic chemicals, fertilisers, or genetically modified organisms, with a focus on environmentally sustainable practices.

Organic systems are an innovative method of farming and production focused on soil and land health, and balanced ecosystems. Social justice is usually a consideration in these types of production systems.

Organic certification takes a holistic approach to food production and handling, and the whole system is linked – Soil. Plants. Animals. Food. People. Environment. Health.

Organic certification is when a third party (a certification body) reviews the organic system to a set of standards for organic production and processing.

The certification body approves systems of organic production and allows the producer or processor to apply the certification logo to their product at point of sale. This certification can give the consumer confidence that products they buy meet a set of internationally recognised standard for organic production.

There are some variations in organic standards, best practice standards usually encompass social justice and environmental protection as well as organic production methods and integrity during transit and processing.


The Australian Department of Agriculture oversees a National Standard for organic and biodynamic produce, and accredits Australian organic certification bodies


Six certifying bodies operate within Australia and in the Asia Pacific region

NASAA Certified Organic –


Australian Certified Organic –

Bio Dynamic Research Institute –

Organic Food Chain –

Safe Food QLD –


The internationally recognised peak body for organic production

International Federation for Organic Agricultural Movements –


Most countries/regions have their own accrediting system for organic product


Japanese Government –

European Union – › … › Organic Farming › EU Policy › EU legislation

Author: Annie Dunn


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