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What is natural?

Posted by joe.jr317 5 (My Page) on
Sat, Aug 15, 09 at 14:26

Another thread got me wanting to post something that could get some opposing views. I have yet to settle on my views of organics. I once was very big into organics. Then I started studying the science more than the marketing and my views on what constitutes as natural versus what marketing has convinced people of what constitutes as natural has changed significantly. This has led to changing my views on organics (or at least the current definitions) significantly and they are constantly evolving. Anyway:

What makes a nutrient "organic" or "derived from natural sources" as opposed to one that is supposedly not natural? Remember, all nutrients are derived from natural materials. It's just some go through more processing than others. The idea of "natural" in "organics" being in opposition to synthetics is one derived of marketing, not science. How can anything man processes be unnatural? Right? Are we not part of nature? What makes a nutrient natural? How can it be more natural to extract nutrients from a source in a solid form to make sure your mix is balanced than it is to further process it into a dissolved form and make sure you have much higher consistency and fewer contaminants that could be harmful? I mean, when bio bizz produces a seaweed extract how is it more natural than another company taking natural products and further processing them for a pure chemical based product? If your definition of natural is "not man made" (which isn't mine since I view us as natural animals without supernatural capability) then I don't see how anything but shoveling compost from a forest floor or poop from the field and placing it directly on plants is natural. Even using composting bins is intervention and processing only possible by the work of man, so it really should not be counted as natural under the "not man made" definition. I mean, how often in the wild do you see a 3x3 foot or bigger pile of perfectly balanced fresh materials composting to feed plants?

Let me say I am a compost fanatic. I vermicompost and use two hot bins outside. So, nothing against composting. I think it is a perfect way of using our biowaste wisely.

So, not looking for some heated argument here despite it being a somewhat controversial subject. But, I would love to see some people post what their definition of natural and organic is and also what they view to be unnatural. If you could, please also say why you feel such a way. I won't tell anyone they are wrong as I've already stated my opinions and the fact that they are constantly evolving. In fact, I expect my opinions may be further influenced by some of the obviously intelligent people that post on this forum.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: What is natural?

Hi. Remember me? Here's my 2-cent's worth:

IMO the 'controversy' stems from the difference between all-natural and bio-engineered-natural. There is also something to be said about advertising. I'll explain each. Again this is just IMO (in my opinion).

First off an atom of carbon, which by definition deems something organic, doesn't care if it's from a reagent bottle or from a rotting tree; carbon is carbon.

A man-made isotope of carbon is another thing altogether. My opinion of "organic" would be carbon as it exists in nature (rotting tree) other than from a man-made carbon isotope.

When we speak of "natural" or "organic", the assumption is that it derived from the earth and not from a test tube. The folks at Monsanto would argue that point. If you check into it, Monsanto controls about 90% of the world's soy bean crops and those crops are what is termed "Round-up Ready Soy". These are plants that have been genetically modified to resist the application of Round-up weed killer, but are still sold as "natural" or "organic" soy. Go figure!

Along those same lines, advertising laws allow things like "Real" cheese to be nothing more than processed 'cheese food', which is to say it contains a lot of dairy byproducts, but in reality NO actual cheese. How real is that? The crux of that argument is "Real" is a brand name. When you purchase "Real Cheese" the "real" part is the wrapper; the brand name. What's inside is just stuff!

In conclusion, I believe "real" should represent its namesake and actually be genuine. I believe "natural" carbon should be derived from the earth in its elemental form and not modified by man.

Hmmm . . . that may be more like my nickel's worth, eh?


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RE: What is natural?

This is a question that deserves to be revisited from time to time.

Chemists will tell you that urea is an organic compound. Most organic gardeners will say its not organic. Both uses of the word are correct within a specific context. Urea is by definition an organic compound. Urea can be found in the liver, blood, kidneys and urine of healthy human beings. However, it's important to recognize that the biochemical process that liver enzymes use to synthesize urea are both exceedingly efficient and elegant when compared to the industrial or laboratory processes used to make the same compound for sale at a garden center.

Another area of ambiguity is citric acid. You can find it in commonly in soda pop, candy and other fun things. Many people read "citric acid" on the ingredient label and probably have a picture in their mind of a lush lemon grove where ripe lemons are picked from trees before being fed into stainless steel hopper atop a giant lemon shredding machine where crystal clear citric acid pours out of a stop cock near the bottom. My understanding is that since the 1930s or 40s the standard method of citric acid production has been using cultured fungi and not citrus fruit. You will never see this advertised.

Two stories told and several points were made. Definitions are only useful when two people are using the same definition for the same purpose. This also means that people have to understand what they are talking about. Anyone can say "Sure, I know what all-natural means!" but few can articulate their definition beyond fuzzy and vague terms if pressed for more information. Another issue is that most things are not black and white. Even with agreeing on exactly what it means for something to be natural or unnatural, few things will be entirely one or the other. Most things will fall somewhere in between.
The citric acid story is to make the point that certain industries indeed benefit from their consumers being uninformed. While I have no problem that my Jolly Ranchers are made using the fungus Aspergillus niger rather than fruit from trees of the Rutaceae family, I would imagine that there would be a large "yuck!" factor involved if everyone learned this at once. Food and drink companies wouldnt be doing themselves a favor by running a commercial during half-time at the super bowl explaining how this all worked. This is exemplified by the hobbyist hydroponics industry to an extreme degree. CO2 Boost buckets produce "all-natural CO2" for example. The less people know the more power unscrupulous companies have to sell their over-priced snake oils and junk trinkets while convincing people they absolutely need to have it.

In truth, I nearly disregard labels, claims and marketing all together. I look at the ingredients, how those ingredients were processed and what form the final product has taken. From there I will make a judgment on whether or not its worth trying and base my expectations about what will, should or can happen.


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RE: What is natural?

Of course you're remembered Freeman! How's the plumbing business going?

I've learned a couple things here.

One, I didn't know Round-Up Ready Soy is considered organic by some. I guess I just assumed that genetically modified foods are automatically disqualified since they are under some certifiers. That's the problem with certifiers, though. There is no global standard they have to fit so they are free to fit definitions to whatever lobbyists can get in place. And big agri-chem companies are major lobbyists. One example of definition oddities is the definition of inert or inactive according to the government (Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act) versus chemistry. We all usually learn the definition of inert to mean inactive and when a chemical is rendered inert we usually consider it safe. In pesticides, however, inert and inactive ingredients simply mean that the chemicals don't perform the intended function of the product. Nothing to do with actually being chemically inert. Criminally misleading. Fortunately, the EPA stepped in to make manufacturers at least change the labels from "inactive ingredients" to "other ingredients" in '97.

Two, I didn't know that about citric acid. Very interesting. I mean, I know you can get citric acid from lots of fruits, but I never would have guessed the primary source to be fungi.


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RE: What is natural?

It turns out that words will hold still for anybody, including organic, natural and etc.

You say tomato and I say tomato.......


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RE: What is natural?

The plumbing business is going great. Where else can you live at the top of the food chain with only a meager understanding of just 4 items?

Oh, the four items? Sure:
Poop rolls downhill.
Payday is every day.
If at first you don't succeed, use brute force.
Keep you fingers out of your mouth!

Yup, things are great; thanks for asking.


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RE: What is natural?

You know penicillin is grown by bacteria though it was originally a fungus found growing on oranges.
Also, I don't believe genetically modified plants disqualify it from being organic. After all people genetically modify plants all the time. That's why there are so many varieties of tomatoes(heirloom included)
my understanding is organinc products are not mechanically produced (i.e. miracle grow vs compost tea) or treated with mechanically produced pesticides. in recent years, it has also begun taking on the whole 'how it affects the earth' connotations as well. for example, hydroponics is not 'organic' because when the reservoirs are dumped without consideration, they can cause overloads of chemicals in the environment and lead to things such as algae blooms and what not. Also since hydroponics salts are derived from mined minerals versus say a compost pile, they are not considered a renewable resource as composts are.
Now I don't buy into those latter definitions of organic, but I know they are arguing points for organics to justify the higher prices you pay since they have lower yields versus the chemically advanced foods we can eat.


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