Food Matters: The Response to that Post Article about the National Organic Program

July 12th, 2009


Nearly two years ago I started OrganicMania because I was going crazy trying to figure out when it made sense to go green and organic.

Once I finally understood the food labeling systems (USDA Organic, Made with Organic Ingredients, Green, Natural, etc), I felt a bit more sane.

But as I blogged here last week, the news that Organic Standards may not be all that they seem has turned my world upside down again. Two years later, and I’m still being driven crazy trying to sort out green and organic claims!

The  Washington Post ‘s coverage of the controversy surrounding the National Organic Program touched off interesting reactions from organics advocates and observers. I was barely digesting that story and the reaction to it when Whole Foods announced they’ve joined the non-GMO project, and Dean Foods announced  a move toward “natural” milk – two developments that will throw yet another wrinkle into the food shopping game.  I don’t typically do news summaries here at OrganicMania, but I think these developments are so significant that they merit a recap.

So this is News? Samuel Fromartz, author of “Organic, Inc,” blogged that “The tension discussed in the [Post] article, between those who have always sought to expand the industry and those who seek a more purist vision…. wasn’t particularly news…As for synthetics in processed food, there will always be two camps on this — and both present risks. If synthetics are taken out processed foods would fade off the shelves. Maybe that’s not a bad thing, but the organic industry would be a lot smaller. If, on the other hand, too many synthetics are let in, and we start getting more organic junk food with a long list of unpronounceable ingredients, that will spell the end of organics too.”

It’s So Unfair! The Organic Trade Association issued this press release taking issue with the criticisms aired by The Washington Post reporters. I wish I had seen more reaction from organics advocates, but this was the best response I could find after much online searching, so I’ve included the key points below.

o “The federal organic standards have not been ’relaxed.’ Rigorously enforced standards can and do go hand-in-hand with growth… Organic agriculture and products remain the most strictly regulated, as well as the fastest growing, food system in the United States today.”

“Organic agriculture protects the health of people and the environment by reducing the overall exposure to toxic chemicals from synthetic pesticides that can end up in the ground, air, water and food supply, and that are associated with health consequences from asthma to cancer. Extensive pesticide residue testing by the U.S.D.A. has found that conventionally produced fruits and vegetables are, on average, three to more than four times more likely to contain residues than organic produce, eight to eleven times more likely to contain multiple pesticide residues, and contain residues at levels three to ten times higher than corresponding residues in organic samples.”

o “..There is a very specific process that materials must go through before they are permitted for inclusion in organic products. In regards to fatty acids, the USDA regulators followed the recommendation of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB)… Because the position of the reporters’ sources did not ‘carry the day’ in this public review by no means makes the process illegal, and to characterize it as such is a great disservice to the public.”

Also last week, Whole Foods announced it will begin certifying certain of its  private label 365 brand foods through the Non-GMO Project. I believe this will be the first major non-GMO labeling effort of its kind  – something we should all support. But I predict that Whole Foods’ move will drive more consumers away from organics and toward the new non-GMO label,  since many people buy organics primarily to avoid GMOs.

Perhaps USDA Organic is not the “be all and end all” that its most ardent supporters claim. But it’s one of the best indicators we have of quality food, particularly in the supermarket.  As consumers, we need to continue to push for strong organics standards, meaning no relaxation of the current  USDA Organic standard.  Check out this campaign promoted by Terressentials Organics to solicit consumer support for upholding organic standards.  You  have until August 31st to have your voice heard by the National Organics Program.

My bet is that the continued expansion of organics, the growth in the natural foods and green categories  and the new non-GMO label will continue to make food shopping a challenge – meaning I’ll still be going crazy! (At least it will give me plenty to blog about here at OrganicMania!)

Check out the other wonderful posts in this month’s  Green Moms Carnival, hosted by Alline at A Passion for Green Business.

What do you think? Are you still going crazy trying to sort this all out? Leave a comment and share!

— Lynn

Copyright OrganicMania 2009

9 Responses to “Food Matters: The Response to that Post Article about the National Organic Program”

  1. Lisa on July 13, 2009 3:02 pm

    I’m very excited about GMO labeling, I just hope it will become the law at some point. We deserve to know what we are eating.

    I just carry cheat sheets in my purse to remember it all lol.

    Lisa’s last blog post..Greening Your Own Birthday

  2. Mindful Momma on July 14, 2009 7:16 am

    Thanks for sharing the blow by blow….yes, it’s a jungle out there!!

    Mindful Momma’s last blog post..How Does Your Garden Grow??

  3. Anna (Green Talk) on July 14, 2009 8:54 pm

    Wow. That the Washington Post article really gave me the shivers. It really shook my faith especially about the baby formula.

    At least, I know what I grow is okay…for now at least.

    Anna (Green Talk)’s last blog post..Mother Earth Intended Food to Be Eaten From the Vine

  4. Lynn on July 14, 2009 9:05 pm

    Anna, yes, that article was really shocking, particularly the quote from the QAI organics certifier (which validates my decision about a year ago to stop buying organic produce imported from China!) The story ran on the front page of The Washington Post – which was also really something to see. Just not the same effect online!

    MindfulMomma –
    Yes, it is really crazy. At least it gives me plenty of fodder for OrganicMania! :)

    Lisa – I almost think they’re past the point of labeling. Nearly everything (90% of the U.S. corn, wheat and soy crops are GMO), so if you’re not eating organic, you can pretty well assume you’re eating GMO. But despite that, I think this non-GMO label will be a huge success with Whole Foods shoppers.

    I really wonder how they will price the non-GMO natural brand at Whole Foods…I’m assuming it will be higher priced than their current private label 365, and just a bit below organic prices. I feel sorry for the people who have worked so hard to establish organic agriculture only to see some new entrants push to relax the standards – and now, to have this added competitive threat from non-GMO certified natural foods.

  5. Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship on July 19, 2009 10:47 pm

    Our midwest grocery chain, Meijer, has started a line “Naturals” that is GMO-free, which is a great step in the right direction! I bookmarked this post as a super reference; thanks!

    Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship’s last blog post..Free the Thanksgiving Turkey! (And Eat a Great Sandwich)

  6. Beth Terry, aka Fake Plastic Fish on July 21, 2009 5:08 pm

    These kinds of issues make my brain hurt. On the one hand, support for non-GMO is great. GMOs are one reason that Whole Foods did not jump on the PLA bandwagon as an alternative to plastic packaging.

    On the other hand, if it works to weaken support for organics, then we haven’t really gained anything. *Sigh*

    Beth Terry, aka Fake Plastic Fish’s last blog post..Plastic-free Farmer’s Markets need our thanks!

  7. Laura on October 16, 2009 3:15 pm

    This is a well researched article that looks at both sides of the GMO issue in easy to understand language.

  8. JoAnn on February 3, 2010 6:24 pm

    Fellow organic people,

    In its own report, the USDA says that not enough consumers care enough about organic foods for the USDA to block Monsanto’s modified alfalfa seeds.

    Don’t be silent on this one folks, the USDA is considering allowing Monsanto to patent it’s GM alfalfa. I’ve seen posts and news articles that said a judge has banned it, but not until it’s been approved by the USDA. That’s where we’re at now.

    We’ve got just two more weeks to post our comments to the USDA’s website to let them know that we DO care.

    Share this with all you know.
    .-= JoAnn´s last blog ..The USDA is DARING us to SPEAK UP against Monsanto! =-.

  9. Organic and Green Mom Blog | It’s Finally Here!: Ice Cream for Breakfast Day! And This May Be the Last Year to Make it Organic! at Organic Mania on February 5, 2011 12:24 pm

    […] them is to buy organic – one of the main reasons I buy organic, as I’ve blogged here here and […]

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