PureInsight | October 15, 2006
("Organic" products, especially those obtained from abroad, which are
certified by the United States Department of Agriculture's National
Organic Program may not really be organic.)
In the early days of the magazine "Organic Gardening and Farming,"
organic meant gardening without chemical pesticides and using natural
fertilizer such as compost or composted manure.
Organic farms such as Walnut Acres sprang up, doing a mail-order
business, and co-ops were started for local and distant produce and
grains. "Organic" was always pricier and usually didn't look perfect,
but the health benefits were worth the extra effort and cost.
Complications soon arose with the arrival of sludge fertilizer,
antibiotics, hormones, irradiation, genetically modified (GM) seed, and
other signs of "progress."
As public demand increased, larger farms became organic. In order to
keep the name "organic" from being thrown around loosely, organic
farmers and food producers themselves generated state certification
standards. In 2002, the United States Department of Agriculture was
given the power to issue a stamp of approval with the creation of the
National Organic Program (NOP). The USDA, however, is under constant
pressure from factory farms to bend the rules. For example, beef
farmers now want the title of "grass fed" for their antibiotic and
hormone treated corn-fed beef, if they give them a little grass.
Whereas, "grass fed" now means free-ranging cattle grazing in pastures
at least 120 days of the year.
In March 2006, Paula Lavigne wrote an article about a survey conducted
by the Dallas Morning News of how well the USDA follows its own rules
about organic farming.
Usually, documented complaints of violating organic standards result in
the name organic being yanked, although no fines are applied.
Complaints about and audits of certifiers, even though acknowledged as
true infringements, are ignored. NOP rules require the USDA to post
violations by farms, ranches and processors on its Web site for public
viewing, but as of now, even the Dallas Morning News has to wait at
least six months for such documentation.
Enter the foreign countries that would like the extra income from the
organic label. Among them is China, one of the countries most dependent
on chemical fertilizers and GM strains to feed its 1.3 billion people.
Although China's land is only 15 percent arable, they claim to have 8.6
million organic acres, 90 percent of it certified in 2004. The United
States has 2.2 million acres organically farmed.
The USDA approves the certifiers for China. One is the Organic Crop
Improvement Association (OCIA) of Lincoln, Nebraska, which has
certified 200 farms in China. Cui Min, the sales official from a
certified outfit, the Rizhao Huasai Foodstuffs Company, said some of
its farmers add human waste to their fertilizerâ€”a USDA no-no. The owner
of OCIA, Jeff See, said that the farmers there signed affidavits that
they would follow the rules.
Fred Gale, senior USDA economist who has researched Chinese
agriculture, said that simply trusting the word of a farmer is probably
unrealistic. He also said that it was "almost impossible to grow truly
organic food in China. The water everywhere is polluted, and the soil
is contaminated from industry and mining."
Steve Sprinkel, an Ojai, California, organic industry consultant,
wrote: "We do have knowledge that certification norms are not being
followed by a number of parties, and that site visits have been delayed
beyond the acceptable period allowed â€¦ When one considers the huge
tonnage of dry edible beans and livestock feed arriving from China as
"certified organic" when the NOP does not recognize those certifiers as
competent to work in China, it is obvious that we at best have an
immature system rife with on-the-job training posing as comprehensive
quality controlâ€¦. There is not much reason to believe that an
under-funded, thinly staffed and unseasoned outfit like the NOP is up
to speed on accreditation."
Steve and a few fellow farmers wrote of their concerns to the USDA
stating, "But we know factually of hardship and disappointment borne by
many thousands of compliant farmers and their families because illicit,
mislabeled product is being imported into the country."