Like many other words in English, organic has more than one meaning. Some are almost antagonistic to others. The most common meanings for organic are along the lines of

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  1. The original meaning: a living Organism such as a plant, animal or microbe
  2. organic matter or organic material: something that came from a living organism, such as manure, sawdust or rock phosphate. This is the meaning used in referring to organic fertilizers and to organic soil amendments such as compost. A fertilizer is classed as organic in some areas if at least 65 per cent of the main nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium or N, P and K) come from the organic matter in the fertilizer
  3. of or applying to an organ or to the organs of an animal or plant
  4. an organic chemical or substance: one containing a carbon ring, these substances include alcohol, herbicides and petroleum. Originally they were thought to come only from living things, and that is how they got the name. Many substances covered by this meaning do not fit most definitions of organic farming and some - artificial biocides (pesticides and herbicides) - are totally unsuited to organic farming (see below)
  5. farming in a more sustainable way without using artificial chemicals. This is what most consumers seem to understand it to mean. They often also have an animal welfare expectation attached to it and this has them seeing organic farming as being more caring towards animals. The term came from treating the farm as a living organism, rather than as a food factory as was the trend in the 1920s when the word gained currency
  6. an organic movement: Something that has grown from its roots such as a political movement or even the organic farming movement. These movements are not imposed from above or from existing structures such as political parties but come from the people
  7. in philosophy it means having the sort of interconnectedness that is characteristic of the relations of the parts of living organisms to the whole organism
  8. organic law means of or pertaining to the constitutional or essential law or laws that organize the government estate; and
  9. it can also mean that the thing being described is characterized by a systematic arrangement of its parts; it is organized or systematic.

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This page was updated on December 27, 2007