What you need to know about organics - The Packer

What you need to know about organics

09/16/2011 08:50:00 AM
Amelia Freidline

Wherever you go in the world, organic food standards fail to uphold even the most basic rules of common sense. 
And no, I’m not a detractor of the principles of organic farming. I grew up on an organic farm and worked for five years as an advanced organic farm and process inspector. I guess you could say I know too much about this “green” industry to keep quiet.
Have a look at the organic standards of any G-20 nation and you’ll see none that require an annual field test, much less a surprise inspection. 
Instead, a bureaucratic honor system that the organic industry has relied upon since 1973 is the law in every land.
Those who oversee the various organic standards of the world — like Miles McEvoy for instance, deputy administrator of the National Organic Program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture — assure us they’ll soon implement field testing and surprise inspections. 
Back it up
But thus far the $50-billion-per-annum global organic industrial complex runs completely on paperwork.
Imagine a husband using his day timer to “prove” he was being faithful to his wife: “See honey? I was at the office ‘til midnight yesterday.” 
Imagine if policemen didn’t have radar guns or breathalyzers. 
Or my favorite: Imagine the Olympics without athletes being tested to ensure they’re not using performance-enhancing drugs.
Even a McDonald’s restaurant is subject to more scientific scrutiny than an organic farm. 
Oh sure, some organic farms are small-scale, local, family-run enterprises operated by people who are as honest as the day is long. 
But the majority of certified-organic food comes from corporate organic farms, the majority of which are located outside the U.S. in countries like China.
As such, anyone concerned with the purity and nutritional content of the food they feed their family will do better to establish a direct buying relationship with an organic farmer they can meet in person rather than rely on the lax bureaucracy that masquerades as oversight in the organic biz. 
Or just buy regular food.
The industry’s objection to surprise testing is that it will raise the price of organic food. 
But a multi-pesticide test costs one-tenth what organic farmers and processors currently pay for certification. 
So, clearly, surprise field testing will reduce the cost of organic foods.
It will also free organic farmers up from the dreary duties of filling out paperwork, as well as diminish the absolute authority currently held by the owners of for-profit organic certification agencies that determine who gets to become certified.
Yes, it’s true that these agencies require their inspectors to look at some of a farmer’s fields and/or areas of a processing facility. This is referred to euphemistically as bioassaying. But beyond that, the focus is on reviewing the records of the person seeking certification. 
No wonder the lion’s share of de-certifications (which are rare) occur as a result of missing paperwork and not for any suspicion that the rules themselves were violated.
Looking out for who?
In case none of this sets off alarm bells for you, consider that all organic certification agencies stay in business thanks to the revenue they collect from the farms and facilities they certify.
In case you’re still not worried, they also collect revenue based on the volume of organic product each farmer and processor under their watch sells. 
This is referred to in the industry as a royalty structure, another euphemism which warrants a separate column all on its own.
In all other industries, the term “certified” guarantees consumers that a product was tested, and, especially in the case of food safety, that a surprise field visit was paid to the party seeking certification. 
Not so in the organic sector. 
Whether it’s toxic pesticides, synthetic fertilizer or fecal coliforms, not a single test is carried out in the field to ensure the integrity of organic food. 
Rather than engender honesty or improvements to the quality of organic food, the door is thereby left wide open to fraud and gross negligence here at home and abroad.
In countless marketing campaigns — many of which are subsidized with public funds — organic food is claimed to be purer, more nutritious, safer and better for the environment. 
All such claims could easily be verified scientifically through laboratory analysis, but they are not.
The only potentially positive aspect of the organic certification systems of the world is the fact that a person who claims to be organic but who’s caught disobeying the rules is automatically considered to be in violation of federal law. 
But without any means to catch such a person, what difference does this make? It’s like passing a law that says it’s against the law to break the law. 
Where, pray tell, is the verification?
Mischa Popoff is a freelance political writer with a bachelor’s degree in history. He’s qualified by the International Organic Inspectors Association to collect field samples for testing and has been paid by concerned domestic organic farmers to get their crops tested.
Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.

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Michael LaBelle    
Alabama  |  September, 16, 2011 at 10:16 AM

Mischa, I agree with you, but would like to add something to your comments as well. Organics as you correctly pointed out is not subject to common sense. My company, Mighty Grow Organics, manufactures organic fertilizer from poultry litter. One of the issue farmers, especially conventional farmers, have with organic fertilizer is that the nitrogen levels are too low. I could fix that issue if I were allowed to add urea, a synthetic fertilizer, but chemically identical to organic urea (which is very common in raw animal manure) to my fertilizer at the beginning of the process. A quick background of how i manufacture my fertilizer. I take raw poultry litter, add water and trace minerals to it and deep stack it until the internal temps go over 140 degrees F. I then turn the material till temps rise again and then anaerobically digest the material for 4-6 weeks. If I were "allowed" to add urea to the raw litter on the front end, by the time the material had finished being "processed" the urea would be "organic". But the rules don't allow for such innovative thinking. Organic is a negative term, more about what NOT to do than what TO do. Oh well. Organic farmers clamored for someone to do "something". Well they got it, but now don't like what they asked for. That is why so many organic producers are dropping their certification and simply going for "locally" grown using organic principles, thereby avoiding all the paperwork and expense. Michael in Alabama www.mightygrow.com

small farmer    
new york state  |  October, 10, 2011 at 12:57 PM

wait - you're complaining because you have to comply with the law that created the market for your product? what happens to your competitive advantage when anyone can spray a bunch of urea on litter? it's gone. and ITS NOT ORGANIC! DUH! What a whiner

September, 16, 2011 at 10:16 AM

maybe you'll be interested in this website: www.b-greensol.com

Robert Richardson, Ph.D.    
Florida  |  September, 22, 2011 at 01:14 PM

This opinion is timely in that for many years, so-called organic produce has been sold on the market with zero control over the method of growing. Never mind that the organic rules themselves do not make sense, but even produce that is certified organic, pesticide levels can be quite dangerous. Ten years ago, I was commissioned to undertake a study on Colombian, Mexican, and Guatemalan produce certified as organic to determine the pesticide exposure. I took samples from supermarket shelves all over the US from both coasts and the middle. 100% had pesticide residues and the majority showed exposure to pesticides banned in the US since the 1960's. All were certified organic and all failed the multi-pesticide tests done using HPLC in a modern lab. I don't think I would spend the extra money on organic anything until the rules made sense, such as documentation of actual pesticide use during a cropping season and dropping the chemical fertilizer prohibition. That is simply senseless; everything is a chemical, even water. Trying to supply mineral fertilization to modern crops via "natural" animal droppings, etc. is laughably simple-minded and poor business. It is time to overhaul the silly parts of what constitutes organic.

small farmer    
new york state  |  October, 10, 2011 at 01:01 PM

you're supposed to be more believable because of your PhD? right. So, ten years ago you did this study? So, you mean before the USDA standards, then. Null and void.

small farmer    
new york state  |  October, 08, 2011 at 07:11 PM

Mr. Popoff, I see you've changed the way you write your supposed credentials. Until recently, you fraudulently called yourself "an IOIA Advanced Inspector" on your posts around the web. IOIA said about your made-up title - there is no such thing as an Advanced Inspector. No one believes your misinformation and baloney. Any web search brings up the kind of stuff you write. The readers of The Packer are too smart for this! It appears you only want attention. Shame on you for wrecking hard-working peoples livelihoods - just for another published title under your belt.. Bluff and baloney

Mischa Popoff    
Osoyoos BC  |  May, 04, 2012 at 06:17 PM

Dear Michael: I have heard similar agronomic arguments made for the use of limited amounts of urea on certified-organic fields. The idea being to coax the release of otherwise non-available nitrogen from the soil by introducing a small amount of pure nitrogen in a totally usable form. Sadly, the idea is rejected outright by the organic industry. As such, you're quite right that "organic" is a negative term. President Clinton for instance envisaged uniting the organic industry with the biotech sector, and there are many who believe that Obama and Secretary Vilsack agree. But the organic industry is afraid of losing one of its biggest bugbears, its phantom menace... the dreaded genetically-engineered plant. As long as organic activists can bring in the donations and convert people to buying overpriced "organic" food from Mexico and China based on people's fear of biotech, they will never so much as consider a truce much less the unification that Clinton envisioned. And so the negativity lives on. i hope this might provide a bit of insight into why no amount of synthetic nitrogen will EVER be allowed ANYWHERE in organic production, even if the concept is scientifically sound, even from an organic perspective.

USA  |  October, 18, 2011 at 03:50 PM

Where can one get a multi-pesticide test done on "organic" produce? I haven't been able to find anyone to do this on the east coast.

PA  |  May, 07, 2012 at 03:11 AM

Dear David, I can tell you that I have been looking around on the Eastcoast to get some sort of testing done to check the product residue levels. have not found any either on the Eastcoast. We started using EMA environmental Analysis that is located in CA. We bag our produce samples and Fedex them to CA. After a few days you have the results via e-mail, and you know if your product has passed the testing... Cost $280 dollars per container. ( on an apple container for example $0,23 per case) For OTC this is the way to make sure we import 100% organic produce... If you would like receive a sample on what they test for, send me an e-mail......

Mischa Popoff    
Osoyoos BC  |  December, 31, 2012 at 12:26 PM

In response to small farmer's accusation that I am fraudulently calling myself "an IOIA Advanced Inspector", and his claim that IOIA said "there is no such thing as an Advanced Inspector," I invite everyone to have a look at the screenshots I have posted on my website of IOIA's Organic Inspector Training program. As you'll plainly see, IOIA does indeed list "Advanced Organic Inspector" training. Just click here: http://www.isitorganic.ca/attempted_drive-by_smear/guide_to_ioia_organic_inspector_training_program You can also see an IOIA Advanced Training scheduled for March 22-24, 2013 by clicking here: http://www.ioia.net/schedule_list.html and scrolling down a bit. Sorry small farmer, whoever you are.

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