The value of ''naturalness'' in organic agriculture

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Producers, traders and consumers of organic food regularly use the concept of the naturalnatural to characteri ze organic agriculture or organic food. Critics sometimes argue that such use lacks any rational (scientific) basis and only refers to sentiment. We carried out research to (1) better understand the content and the use of the concepts of nature and the natural in organic agriculture, (2) to reconstruct the value basis underlying the use of the concept of the natural in organic agriculture, and (3) to draw implications for agricultural practice and policy. A literature study and the authors¿ own experience were used to produce a discussion document with explicit statements about the meaning of natural in the different areas of organic agriculture. These statements were validated by means of qualitative interviews with stakeholders. The concept of nature or the natural appeared to be value-laden. The value basis is a normative reconstruction that cannot just be derived from the use of the word natural by organic stakeholders. For this reconstructed concept the word naturalness is used. Naturalness thus becomes an ethical value for organic agriculture, an inspirational guide for organic stakeholders. The value of naturalness refers to a basic respect for the intrinsic value of nature, i.e., the value nature has, independent of the benefits it may have for humans. This manifests itself in three ways: (1) in the use of natural substances, (2) in respecting the self-regulation of living organisms and ecosystems, and (3) in respecting the characteristic (species-specific) nature of living organisms. If organic stakeholders limit themselves to using natural substances it is called the no-chemicals approach. If they also respect the self-organization of living organisms the authors call it the agro-ecological approach. If also the normative element of naturalness is included, it is called the integrity approach.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)333-345
JournalNJAS Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • environment
  • ethics
  • health
  • organic farming
  • organic foods
  • concepts

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