What’s going on with “organic”?

I find more and more people want to eat organic foods. They will seek out and pay more for the better quality, nutritional value, and safety represented by true, organically grown foods.

From a business standpoint, organic foods represent much faster growth and higher profit margins than conventionally grown and packaged foods — which are growing stale, to use a relevant term.

In fact, organic food is now a $40 billion a year market. And major “big food” companies — such as General Mills, Kellogg’s and Smucker’s — want in on the action. They have all purchased many of the leading national organic brands. They’ve even created a trade lobby group called the Organic Trade Association to represent their interests.

But don’t get too excited. Their intentions aren’t exactly altruistic. In fact, big food wants to turn the “organic” label into more of a legal issue than a farming technique.

You see, when a food maker adds that one little word “organic” to a product, it can make a lot more money. So big food businesses now spend a ton of money trying to influence the USDA’s definition of the word “organic.” In fact, they spend more advocating for these mealy-mouthed legal manipulations than investing in actual safe, organic crops. Big food has as much control over the USDA as big pharma has over the FDA — all brought to you by big, crony capitalist government.

Organic food law written to protect famers and consumers

In 1990, the U.S. Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) to help farmers produce organically grown foods. The law was also intended to help consumers recognize the higher quality and safety inherent in organically grown foods. Congress also established a National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) composed of citizens to oversee the fair and appropriate application of standards for certification of organic foods.

The 15-member NOSB determines what agricultural materials are safe and appropriate for use in organic agriculture and food production. It also provides guidance to the USDA on policy. Positions on the board include representatives of consumer and environmental groups, as well as food producers.

Congress also reserved four of the 15 citizen positions for actual working farmers who own and operate organic farms. Congress realized they needed people who actually know something about organic farming on the board. After all, the closest a typical Washington bureaucrat has ever gotten to a farm was while taking a field trip to a suburban Maryland or Virginia petting zoo or a Halloween haunted hayride. (If they didn’t get lost in the corn maze.)

Big business takes over organic

But despite Congress’ best intentions, apparently, there’s now more dirt in the dealings of the board than under the fingernails of its members.

A new lawsuit alleges that full-time, big food agribusiness executives now hold two of the four board positions that should be reserved for organic farmers. The Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University (where I serve as an adjunct Professor at the medical school) filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Cornucopia Institute.

Two certified organic farmers also joined Cornucopia in the lawsuit as plaintiffs. Both farmers applied for positions on the NOSB and were rejected in favor of the big food agribusiness executives.

The USDA is embroiled in a number of other current lawsuits over its “management” of the National Organic Program. One legal claim involves the USDA’s unilateral changes to the congressionally mandated process for re-approval of organic certification. The USDA has taken upon itself to relax the standards, requiring synthetic and non-organic materials currently used in organic farming and foods go through the re-approval process every five years instead of more frequently.

Why the change?

Well, for one, rigorous re-approval requires more work for the DC bureaucrats. And making government workers actually work is a cardinal sin in Washington, D.C.

Relaxing the re-approval process also allows big business more opportunities to slip cheaper, non-organic materials into their foods labeled as “organic” between approvals.

Another lawsuit concerns the USDA’s lax oversight of potential contaminants in compost from non-organic operations. I have reported before about the USDA’s backward regulations for handling compost, which are contrary to what farmers know and recommend. (Apparently, not even a lifetime of “working” in Washington has been sufficient to make government bureaucrats understand how to handle all that “B.S.”)

In short order, the USDA became fast friends with big food…shut out the citizens and famers who know about organic farming…and completely relaxed its enforcement duties. Meanwhile, they run around “busting” organic raw milk producers. They seem quite determined to undermine any real meaning given to the word “organic.” The government bureaucrats’ arrogance, stubbornness and unaccountability to the citizens who pay their salaries is matched only by their incompetence, inefficiency and dishonesty.

Behold ladies and gentlemen, the wonders of your big, crony capitalist government. Through their hard-earned taxes, citizens pay the USDA bureaucrats to do the bidding of big food and undermine the citizens’ interest in having clean, healthy food — the most basic requirement for life.

6 good rules to follow when buying foods

We can only hope these lawsuits will restore some balance and sanity to the organic process. In the meantime, take these six steps to protect yourself when food shopping:

  1. Try to buy local (food grown within 50 miles).
  1. Always look carefully at food labels and don’t just rely on “organic” on the package.
  1. Avoid buying packaged and processed foods, found in the center aisles of grocery stores.
  1. Stay to the perimeter of the store where they keep fresh foods.
  1. Avoid over-priced stores such as “Whole Foods,” which expertly manipulate food wording to grossly overcharge for everything.
  1. Lastly, don’t buy genetically modified (GM) foods. GM foods are grown with the poisonous pesticide glyphosate, which is a disaster for human health and the ecology of planet earth.

Fortunately, starting in July, many companies will start labeling GM ingredients due to consumer demand and new labeling laws in Vermont and other New England states.