Whole Life Magazine

October/November 2012

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Page 25 of 43

Certified Organic: When It's Meaningful, When It's Not Shifting standards demand vigilance from ing companies don't always market their products truthfully, the cynical part of our nature is being roused. Even WLT-reading, educated consumers are starting to wonder, is buying organic really worth the higher price? Talk to the people immersed in the organic lifestyle—small-scale organic farmers, restaurateurs and nonprofit groups—and the answer is a hearty yes, with two recommendations: get informed and act on your new knowledge. "We need to empower consumers and whole- T he term "organic" has taken a beating lately. From scientific studies questioning the value of organic produce to news reports show- Organic resOurces Get Informed • Organic integrity scorecards on the best and worst brands for eggs, cereal, soy, energy bars, meat alternatives, dairy, baby food and baby formula: www.cornucopia.org • Prop 37 info (GMO labeling): www.carighttoknow.org • Books: The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, The Ethics of What We Eat by Peter Singer & Jim Mason • Documentaries: Food Fight; Food, Inc. Buy Local • Certified farmers markets: www.farmernet.com/events/cfms • Food subscription programs: www.ecovian.com/s/losangeles/csa • Organic restaurants: www.urbanspoon.com 26 wholelifetimesmagazine.com both farmers and consumers By Katie Sandberg sale buyers so they can vote in the marketplace for food that truly meets expectations and reward the organizations, farms, entrepreneurs and investors who are doing an exemplary job of subscribing to the values the organic movement was founded upon," says Mark Kastel, an organic hay and beef farmer and co-founder of the organic industry watchdog group, the Cornucopia Institute. Organic 101 The organic movement began in the 1960s in response to the environmental and health concerns raised by industrial-scale agriculture, as well as the desire for more flavorful meat and produce. Pioneering growers, such as Alan Chadwick, and restaurateurs like Alice Waters formed networks that brought sustainable products to regional tables. As consumer awareness of toxic chemicals and diseases spread by conventional factory farm practices heightened, the preference for safe food led to a burgeoning of the organic marketplace. By 1990, the movement was mainstream. Organic farmers approached the federal government seeking national standards so the industry could protect its integrity, resulting in the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. The act set legal definitions for organic certification, production and processing; established the National Organic Program as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and created a 15-member National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to be populated mostly by farmers, environmentalists and consumers to balance against the interests of large corporations that were beginning to jump into the lucrative organic market. The board was granted statutory rights, which means it has regulatory power over organic standards rather than being limited to an advisory role. The legal requirements for organic certification today are complex and depend on the item (for example, organic beef cattle and bison must be raised on pasture during the grazing season), but gen- erally, organic means organisms that are not genetically modified and are grown free from potentially harmful inputs, such as toxic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and hormones, antibiotics, irradiation, and plastic pellet- or animal waste-laden feed. Practices that are often incorporated into organics include composting, cover crops and crop rotation to improve soil fertility; natural pest control; and for animals, quality-of-life protections such as personal space, natural light and free movement. corporations all up in Our agribusiness The organic segment of the food market has become enormously profitable, growing 12 percent in 2011 alone to generate $12.4 billion, per the Organic Trade Association. The past decade has seen big agribusiness snap- ping up family farms and independent producer brands so that today many organic brands are consolidated into the portfolios of large corporations—for example, Kellogg controls Kashi, and Dean Foods owns the Horizon and Silk brands. These corporations are held to the certification requirements of the NOSB and state-level organic laws, but many of them are trying to relax standards through policy and legislation. Nonprofit groups have documented how the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in recent years has allowed corporate representatives to fill NOSB positions lawfully reserved for organic farmers. This unethical development, referred to as "stacking," has shifted NOSB ideology enough to result in potentially dangerous chemicals, such as carrageenan and synthetic omega-3 fatty acids, being ap- proved for use in organic processed foods, including baby formula. As of yet, the NOSB's "mission creep" away from organic core values has not had an impact on organic produce, but some of the very

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