The role of the concept of the natural (naturalness) in organic farming

H. Verhoog, M. Matze, E. Lammerts Van Bueren, A. Baars

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108 Citations (Scopus)


Producers, traders, and consumers oforganic food regularly use the concept of thenatural (naturalness) to characterize organicagriculture and or organic food, in contrast tothe unnaturalness of conventional agriculture.Critics sometimes argue that such use lacks anyrational (scientific) basis and only refers tosentiment. In our project, we made an attemptto clarify the content and the use of theconcepts of nature and naturalness in organicagriculture, to relate this conception todiscussions within bioethical literature, andto draw the implications for agriculturalpractice and policy. Qualitative interviews were executed with arange of people in the field of organicagriculture and with consumers of organicproducts, on the basis of a list of statementsabout the meaning of the concept of naturalnessformulated by the authors. Based on the resultsof the interviews, we distinguished 3 aspectsof the concept of naturalness: natural as theorganic (life processes), natural as theecological, and natural as referring to thecharacteristic nature of an entity. We relatedthese conceptual aspects to three mainapproaches within the field of organicagriculture: the no chemicals approach, theagro-ecological approach, and the integrityapproach. It became clear that these approachescan also be recognized in the change ofattitude of farmers as they convert fromconventional to organic agriculture, and in theattitudes of consumers of organic foodproducts. We conclude that the idea of ``naturalness'' canbe used to characterize organic agriculture andto distinguish it from conventionalagriculture, but only if naturalness not onlyrefers to not using chemicals but also toecological principles and respect for theintegrity of life. Thus perceived, theprinciple of naturalness can also serve as aguide to future developments in the field oforganic agriculture. As part of the holocentricethics of organic farming the value ofnaturalness has three dimensions: a cognitiveone, an emotive one, and a normative one.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-49
JournalJournal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • Concept of nature and naturalness
  • Environment
  • Ethics
  • Farm ecology
  • Integrity of life
  • Organic agriculture and food


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