Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Is organic really organic?

I recently went on a organic kick and wanted to see if there's a change in my health after consuming mostly organic foods and drinks. I bought and made organic everything, organic meats, eggs, dairy and produce; and boy was it expensive and boy was it a learning experience.

The whole idea of organic is for the consumer to be able to buy food that is as close to what nature intended the food to be as possible. That meant for me no GMOs, no pesticides, no antibiotics, no additives, etc. The USDA defines organic as food that is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations.  Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.  Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.

What the USDA does to ensure farms are following their standard is train third party inspectors to test the validity of the methods of organic companies, "Certification is handled by state, non-profit and private agencies that have been approved by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) --Wikipedia". There are no set rules of how many visits per year are required and to what depth the investigations must be, but only when farms which sell less then $5,000 organic product a year must submit to a records audit. To me this seems lopsided in the favor of large companies that produce massive amounts of profit per year leaving a ton of red tape for the little guy while giving big business a free pass. Again, the family farms are stomped on.

From this information it is hard to tell how much, if at all, our organic labeled foods are being regulated, by who they are being regulated (inspectors can be hired by companies making their allegiances clear) and how often they are regulated. Since the USDA does such a poor job on inspecting standard food why should we trust the USDA organic seal at all?

Most if not all of the organic labeled animal products and much of the organic labeled produce come from factory farms and are produced by big agriculture companies. The Cornucopia Institute has conducted investigations and researched the legitimacy of organic labeling on many large brand names that are sold in groceries across the U.S.. They compiled the information into score cards, listed below.

Egg Score Card

Dairy Score Card

Cereal Scorecard

As noted on the score cards store brand organics like HEB's Market Fresh or Kroger's Organic Private Selection score very low because they will not answer questions regarding where and how food is grown or raised. Is this really a lot to ask? At least offer some information to gain the confidence of your consumers.

So what have I learned from this whole experience? First off I learned the USDA does not directly regulate organic labeled foods and most likely some "inspector" paid by the producing company is hired in the interest of the company. Secondly, local grocery stores are also all for the profits, and could care less about telling their consumers basic information about their store brand foods. I also learned the best place to get the safest food is your own back yard, small local farms are the next best, that way you can make certain where your food comes from and how it is produced. Lastly, I want to note there were positive changes in my health after consuming organic labeled foods, yet I can not point them directly to eating organic as I adopted other healthy changes like omitting soft drinks and omitting additives to my diet. I personally do think some organic labeled foods are really what they say they are, but I also believe that it is near impossible to tell who is labeling truthfully and how often.