Monday, January 10, 2005

organic certification

So back when I was writing my thoughts on humane slaughter, I ran down a bunny trail about organic certification. The humane slaughter topic was all together enough for one post, so I clipped the organic certification bit for later posting. I read an article tonight that prompted me to pull it back up and have a go at being generally annoyed online.

What exactly is "organic certification" do you think? The USDA organic standards are actually lower than many small farms are keeping to, out of their own sense of what is right for the environment and for their families. But these farms can't afford the certification. The paper trail that is required to be kept is virtually impossible to maintain for a small operation. We are talking about people who spend 7 days a week, 10 to 12 hours a day, working out in their fields and with their animals. When do they have time to keep a complicated paper trail? They don't, so they have to hire someone, but they can't afford that, etc.

On top of that, many of the products that you buy in the grocery store that are labeled organic may technically be meeting the organic standards set by the USDA, but the corporations behind them are not necessarily practicing sustainable agriculture or environmental gentleness. Great, you used seaweed instead of synthetic fertilizers, but you are consuming huge amounts of fossil fuel running those big farm machines and trucking product all over the country. And just because you feed your cattle organic grain in the feedlot doesn't make being in the feedlot a great idea.

Have a look at this article on organic dairies in today's Chicago Tribune.

You might be surprised by the debates that go on in Washington about your food. Did you know, for example, that in February 2003, a modification was made to a Farm Aid bill at the last minute, allowing organic livestock farmers to feed their animals non-organic feed if the cost of organic was more than double the cost of conventional feed? And still label them organic!

Thankfully, this slipped-in modification was repealed a few months later. You can read more about it here.

Eliot Coleman, a leader in the grassroots organic movement, writes in his super cool book The New Organic Grower that really the only way to be sure of what you are eating is to know the name of the farmer who grew it.

Coleman has some thoughtful things to say about the effects of national certification on organics and the coopting of terminology.

Around here, we are partial to the phrase "sustainable agriculture". We think that does a pretty good job of summing up what we are trying to do. We want to be kind to our animals, kind to our soil, air and water, kind to our children and the many generations to come that will be left with the fallout from whatever we have done. We fervently hope that what we will leave them will be a healthier little 40 acres, and a rich heritage of living fully with God's creation.

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