The Backyard

The Backyard

Monday, December 8, 2008

Organic Food - What You Need to Know

To Buy or Not To Buy Organic by Cindy Burke is yet another book filling up my appetite of book consumption lately. This one took the last two books - In Defense of Food and Deep Economy - a step further than building local, sustainable food economies, and dug a little deeper into the world of organic food production. The author sited specific foods you should ONLY buy organic, and others that are OK to purchase conventionally. Her listing is the same as the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen, but she has a more comprehensive listing filling 20 pages of the book. She then goes into where to find organic foods and lists organizations/websites in support of organics. But before she got there, she talked a lot about what organic food really is (no chemicals/sustainable growing practices, etc), and where its going or is already there -- i.e., agribusiness buying into the organic movement and defeating the purpose of "sustainable" local farming practices. That's the part of the book that hit home. Many small, sustainable organic farmers have been undermined by the big guys slapping the USDA organic sticker on their food and selling that organic product for a much cheaper price. You and I have seen it at GIANT and WALMART, and yes I was very happy to finally see organics at the grocery store. They now carry organic products at relatively affordable prices. But my eyes have now opened up to the reality of grocery chain organics. The big guy's main concern is bottom line income and pay no attention to the environmental issues surrounding organic food production on a large scale. The USDA organic sticker does in fact mean the food is certified organic -- it's certified organic seed and certifiably grown without pesticides and in the case of meat/dairy/eggs, no hormone growth drugs or antibiotics used in the animals. So you are safe in buying organic if all you are concerned about is no pesticides or drugs in the food. What the USDA doesn't regulate with organics is where the food comes from (shipping costs from China or other countries), large scale production (i.e., Dole still uses really big tractors and oil consumption to produce that organic spinach), and in the case of milk, they do not regulate if the cow was raised in a feedlot never seeing the light of day - the cow simply has to be fed organic grains and not given any antibiotics. And the other sad part of organics going large-scale? It's now just another governmental bureaucracy. I've seen and read the USDA standards for organic certification and it would take a full-time employee just to keep up with the standards. And that's precisely what many of the smaller farms are experiencing -- the paperwork is dismal, bureaucratic red tape, not worth the certification. It is costly (certification cost is based on your income), and you have to renew annually AND allow the inspector to poke around your farm each year to assure you are meeting the standards. So what does a consumer do - what do they buy? Sustainable, locally grown produce. Apparently, local sustainability is the latest buzz and you will find many, many local farmers at farmer's markets that practice sustainability and do not use pesticides. But they can't call themselves organic because they aren't certified as such. Little did I realize, that's what I've been doing for years. Last year, I had thought when I retire in two years I'd get on the USDA certification bandwagon and be certified organic. After reading my last three books, my thoughts have changed (even before I read this book when I downloaded the USDA "book" on standards) and I think I'll keep doing what I've been doing for 16 years... composting, crop rotation, IPM, hand weeding (mulch!), planting herbs for the good bugs to kill off the bad bugs -- all the ingredients for sustainability. Bottom line? Buy locally. If you can find organics locally, even better. Buy into a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). I'll just bet they are organic. The cost to the environment to purchase that China-grown organic spinach simply isn't worth it. I'll go without until spring.

1 comment:

wstropp said...

I get so mad when I read things like this. We need to support the companies that have integrity and an understanding of the bigger picture. There is an organic milk on the market called Heritage Organic Milk by Stremick's. They are family owned and believe that integrity and care should extend to not only to how the milk is produced, but to how the animals are treated as well. Get out and buy from the companies who are eco-friendly and conscious of the world around them.