Differences in Organic and Conventional Agricultural Requirements

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As Americans increasingly produce and consume more organic foods, consumers’ perceptions of organic requirements may inaccurately reflect the legal requirements. My first question was, how do consumers’ perceptions of organic fertilizer, pesticide, and livestock management requirements differ from the requirements written in the law? My second question was, how have the differences in requirements for the USDA organic certification and conventional agriculture changed in North Carolina and California since 1990? While a majority of past research on the differences between organic and conventional production has focused on environmental impacts, this research is unique because it focuses on the differences in legal requirements as well as consumers’ and producers’ perceptions of those requirements, particularly for California and North Carolina. To assess consumers’ perceptions, I surveyed 560 Americans and found that the respondents overestimated the fertilizer, pesticide, and livestock management requirements for organic agriculture. To explore the second question, I focused on fertilizer, pesticide, and livestock management requirements in federal and state laws for organic and conventional agriculture, and I interviewed 22 farmers about their experiences with the two systems. Both my examinations of the law and the interviews showed significant variation in the differences between organic and conventional requirements across state and food product. Some farmers see few differences while others who see large differences believe organic agriculture is more ethical than conventional. There are also conventional farmers who argue that their practices are more sustainable than those of organic farmers and there are organic farmers who obtain the organic label in order to charge a higher price. In terms of the written law, USDA seems to have relaxed organic requirements in some cases, while both USDA and EPA have tightened requirements for conventional systems thereby diminishing at least some differences between organic and conventional requirements. I conclude that consumers should not assume all organic foods have the fewest environmental impacts and that all conventional foods have the most environmental impacts, and should instead do background research on particular products. Farmers should help consumers by making their production processes more salient. To more accurately highlight and reward environmentally sustainable farms, the government should continue decreasing organic certification costs for small-scale sustainable farms.





Hossain, Shajuti (2015). Differences in Organic and Conventional Agricultural Requirements. Honors thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/9349.

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