Defining Organic

Last semester in my nutritional ecology class, we discussed, in depth, the organic industry.   Coming from the food industry and dealing with the organic regulations, I began to ponder what organic really means.   On the ingredient supplier side, for a product to be "certified organic", it mearly has to follow a set of rules regulated by the UDSA. Does organic food mean it is better for us and provides us with more nutrients?  Is the food more wholesome?  Those of us who try to eat organic foods, might be surprised at what we can find in our bodies.  Organic began with altruistic intent by a group of people who wanted to make a change in the way they were eating and the state of the world.  A small agricultural movement has now become a corporate industrial market.   The organic food movement, like many things American, has been stripped of its original purpose and the regulations have been rewritten by the USDA, mainly with the help of large lobbying corporations.

It is proven that eating organic food has benefit over many conventional items.  Many of us strive to eat healthier and resist the urge to fill our bodies with chemical compounds.  Organicag.org displays more than 70 studies confirming the nutritional benefit of organic foods over conventional in various vitamin, mineral and antioxidant components.    The research and information is available: organic is better for you and the environment.  It is heartbreaking to see where the organic industry has been headed since the regulations were first released in 1990.  With all of the positives of eating organic products, now that it has become something demanded by consumers, the original intent was lost.

Organic is now a mainstream industrial operation. The National Organic Program website states the following:  “The NOP developed national organic standards and established an organic certification program based on recommendations of the 15-member board.”  After taking a closer look at the board members, it includes members from corporations such as Campbell’s Soup, General Mills and Earthbound farm.  Based on the organic industry structure, Big Food companies are continuing to buy up the small organic companies.  How do we know the board is working in the interest of the globe and consumers, and not for the monetary benefit of their respective employers?

In The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan describes the conditions of the organic farms and meat producers he visited.  Pollan writes, “the free range story seems a bit of a stretch when you discover that the door remains firmly shut until the birds are at least five or six weeks old.”  Free range is now a “story” manipulating what consumers believe free range to be and has no reasonable relation to the truth.  This is what organic has become: a story consumers want to believe about the food they are eating.  The Cornucopia Institute's press release relating to organic laws discusses, in detail, “under the Bush administration, the USDA did an inadequate job of enforcing federal organic law.”  The American public expects companies to be following the regulations as required, but the fact that some companies are following the organic regulations to varying degrees and organic producers can manipulate the regulations, might be no different than manipulating other regulations in the food industry.  What is most offensive is that most people are trying to be healthier by eating organic and the organic products they are purchasing are no healthier or better for the environment than a conventional product.  It is fraud at the worst level.  With some skillful marketing, large corporations are trying to deceive the average consumer.

Pollan writes, “[t]here comes a point when the process of industrialization will cost organic its soul”.  If we continue on the path of industrializing organic, it might be nothing more than main stream product, harming the environment as much as conventional items.  Pollan writes about the destruction of the soil through organic farming, “The heavy tillage- heavier than in a conventional field- destroys the tilth of the soil and reduces its biological activity as surely as chemicals would.”  Companies producing organic will not change until there is change at a regulation level. Until the government is able to stand up to these large corporations and put a set of regulations in place, as well as confirm these regulations are being followed, we are not going to see any change. Let’s hope we can get back to the grass roots movement organic was set out to be before it is too late.