Biodynamic versus Organic – Is There A Difference?
I have been seeing a lot of articles about biodynamic agriculture and, to be frank, I was not sure how or if it was different from organic farming. Some suggested that biodynamic was better than organic and others said it was nothing but a hoax that needed to be uncovered. Since I am not a scientist or farmer and spend more of my research time on the use of chemicals and plastics in consumer products than on farming, I had to get up to speed on this.
Below is a summary of key points comparing the two standards – sort of an easy cheat sheet.
Biodynamic and organic farming both endeavor to take us back to the roots – to the way farming and agriculture was cultivated a number of decades ago, before the chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and before genetic engineering.
But there are differences too – the certified organic standard of the USDA is formulated by the US Department of Agriculture and applies domestically, while biodynamic is an international standard with Demeter as the world’s only certifier of biodynamic farms and products and chapters in over 22 countries.
Under the certified organic standard, one set of rules and requirements applies to a range of agricultural products and processes (i.e., organic processors must use minimum 95% certified organic ingredients and only approved non- organic ingredient in products that are labeled organic and crop practices must follow organic rules). In biodynamic, there are different standards for dairy and produce and so forth. Now, we can look at this both ways – one standard is better as it is easier to understand and follow or, on the other hand, standards adopted to given products allow those standards to be higher as they are more specific to given characteristics.
The difference I found most interesting is that in organic farming and practices it is allowed to split, meaning that a part of the farm can be certified organic and the rest of it conventional. Similarly, when processing foods, a company or farm can share the space for making or processing both organic and non-organic foods. In biodynamic, the entire farm and processing facility must adhere to the standards. In addition, to be certified as biodynamic, there must be several acres of land set aside for biodiversity. I thought this was an important distinction as shared farming / processing allows for efficiency (if you want to call it that) but it also increases the margin for error.
While the organic standard is high, it allows for some non-organic ingredients (5%) and allows for others that are deemed safe but have come under fire, like carrageenan. Biodynamic seems to have a tougher standard – no carrageenan, no ascorbic acid, no natural aromas.
I see also why some would be tempted to call biodynamic a hoax. Organic takes us back to the way we grew and processed food using established scientific standards, so that they are easy to understand and are well grounded. Biodynamic, on the other hand, is sort of all-encompassing, a holistic approach where the farm itself is considered an organism in which plants, animals and human beings are integrated together. It even considers cosmic constellations (stating on the Demeter web site that such “are respected as far as practically possible. The moon and planets influence the growth of roots, leaves, flowers and fruit, – just like moon phases have an influence on sea tides” – I think Demeter has a good point).
I have seen a lot more biodynamic products in Europe than in the US, but living in the age of the internet, that is not really an issue.
Are you going to look out for biodynamic products?
You may already be using some – Weleda skin and body care products, for example, are biodynamic (and one of its founders, Dr. Steiner, was the founder of the biodynamic movement).