Organic farming can generally be classified as sustainable agriculture. However, it is important to distinguish between the two. Organic products can be produced on large industrial farms that are not sustainable. Meanwhile, not certified organic can produce food using methods that will sustain the farm’s productivity for generations.
To distinguish between organic and sustainable, here are some comparisons:
Organic farms require organic certification approved by the USDA. Farms using sustainable practices do not require any official certification. Sustainable farming is more a philosophy or way of life.
Organic animal farmers can actually confine animals and gain organic certification with as little as an open door leading to a cement patio. In a more sustainable system, animals must be permitted to carry out their natural behaviors, like rooting, pecking or grazing. A farmer using sustainable methods might keep his or her animals indoors in bad weather, but the animals are given ample space to move around naturally and are healthy, comfortable and well cared for.
While no antibiotics can be fed to organic-certified livestock, there is no legal restriction for antibiotic use in sustainable farming. Many farmers using sustainable practices do not administer any antibiotics at all, but some may do so when their animals are sick and need to be treated. The milk and meat of animals given antibiotics on these farms are not used for human consumption until the antibiotics have fully passed out of the animals’ systems.
No added or artificial hormones are allowed for organic farming, nor are they used for sustainable farming.
Not all organic food is grown on a small family farm. It can be produced by large corporations, while sustainable food production is carried out by small farmers and families who live on the land where they farm.
Size of the farm
With organic farming, there is no limitation on how many acres can be used to grow crops. Sustainable farmers plant crops in relatively small, mixed plots as a form of pest control and to build soil fertility.
Organic certification does not take into consideration the use of fossil fuels used to truck food which can travel thousands of miles before reaching your dinner plate. Sustainable food, however, is distributed and sold as close to the farm as possible.