Time to push for USDA certification of "sustainably grown"

09/12/2012 08:16:00 AM
Tom Karst

National Editor Tom KarstThe long and grinding effort to find the value of "sustainability" in the market continues. There seems to be no end to the effort to talk about the importance of sustainability and  to create "metrics" to measure sustainability. But the value of investing in "sustainable" practices and the worth of creating a marketing presence aimed at consumers is still under debate.

One active discussion in the Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group was this question:

What does everyone think about a sustainable farming produce label?

The discussion has 30 comments so far.

Jarrod writes the reason behind the question:

I've been in the agriculture business for 20 years, on the ground working with farmers and agronomists. We have made great strides in placing the nutrients where the plant can readily use them. We are trying to maximize every dollar and use it the most efficient way possible.
I'm asking about a label that clearly states it is not organic, but is using less nutrients(fertilizer).


Another member, Richard, responds:

Finding a label that illustrates 'enviro-friendly farming methods' but clearly states that it's not organic will be a challenge at best. This was tried 15-20 years ago to try to educate the public that most farmers, though not organic producers, were using integrated pest management (IPM) practices -- enviro-friendly methods intended to preserve eco-balance by most efficient, and hopefully reduced, applications of pesticides. Every farmer does it, but illustrating that to the consuming public with a label doesn't translate into increased sales, only more informed customers.

 

To the point Richard makes, there is much truth. There is no identity for sustainable relative to organic. Consumers know the "organic" label, and for a variety of reasons they will pay more for organic USDA-certified food. And the market continues to grow; for the second quarter of 2012, the United FreshFacts report show organic vegetable sales were up 14.6% compared with year-ago levels, while organic fruit sales were up 20.3% for the quarter.

While there is no government-sanctioned definition of "local,"  that hasn't seemed to make a difference to consumers. Consumers will buy locally grown foods, and any attempt to "certify" such food should be considered an ill-considered waste of money.


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Jeff Pieracci    
San Jose Ca  |  September, 12, 2012 at 01:09 PM

I don't know about the rest of you but I am getting tired of the buzz words and causes. Anyone still growing today in California, putting product in commerce, has passed the intitial sustainability test I'd say! Is anyone using DDT or leaving the water on all night?.....Sorry i'm cranky. I just spent 3 hourd doing my News Letters and Local 150 List...whats next a Sustainability List, who's naughty and not playing nice! Agh! Jeff

Tom K    
Lenexa  |  September, 13, 2012 at 11:10 AM

Jeff, I liked your thot about passing the initial sustainability test by just putting product in commerce. If sustainability does become a bigger issue, wouldn't you want just one standard/certification from the USDA rather than retailers asking for their own audits and scores? Tom K

Levi    
USA  |  September, 18, 2012 at 09:05 AM

The whole issue is who defines "sustainability". For instance is the multiple cultivations to control weeds in organic "more sustainable" than herbicide applications in an herbicide resistant gmo sweet corn? Or how about in forestry and logging, is selective harvest more sustainable than clear cutting when selective harvest can remove the species of high value and leave only poor quality and low value species for future harvests? If the consumer drives the definition, then you're letting the least informed parties make decisions that have wide ranging impacts.

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