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.
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