Local Food Part 2 – How the Organic Label Can Let You Down

To read part 1 of our series click here.

By Arwen McGilvra –

When most people shopping for groceries choose organic food they do so because they want food that has fewer pesticides and that was raised sustainably for the environment. However the “organic” label may not be a good indicator of those ideals. Quoted in a New York Times article Frederick L. Kirschenmann says,

People are now buying from a global commodity market, and they have to be skeptical even when the label says ‘organic’ — that doesn’t tell people all they need to know…

The article points out that the growth of demand for all seasons organic food has lead to environmental problems in Mexico and may actually have a larger carbon footprint.

The explosive growth in the commercial cultivation of organic tomatoes here, for example, is putting stress on the water table. In some areas, wells have run dry this year, meaning that small subsistence farmers cannot grow crops. And the organic tomatoes end up in an energy-intensive global distribution chain that takes them as far as New York and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, producing significant emissions that contribute to global warming. Read Organic Agriculture May Be Outgrowing Its Ideals

In her blog on Scientific America Mythbusting 101: Organic Farming > Conventional Agriculture

Turns out that there are over 20 chemicals commonly used in the growing and processing of organic crops that are approved by the US Organic Standards. And, shockingly, the actual volume usage of pesticides on organic farms is not recorded by the government…

The sad truth is, factory farming is factory farming, whether its organic or conventional. Many large organic farms use pesticides liberally. They’re organic by certification, but you’d never know it if you saw their farming practices.

The truth is that organic does not equal pesticide free, just pesticides sourced from different materials. Looking over The National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances for Organic production you might be surprised at how many pesticides and synthetic products are really allowed. I would like to add that most produce both Organic and Conventional generally has very safe levels of pesticide residue, staying far below the EPA standards. We’ll talk more about that in the next article for now if you want to know more read this excellent Slate.com article Organic Shmorganic.

There is in fact a lack of testing to see if the “organic” label meets organic standards. As author Mischa Popoff puts it:

Did you assume, like most people do, that the term “certified” meant organic crops were being tested? After all, that is what that term means when light bulbs are certified to 100 Watts or motor oil is certified to 10W30. But that’s not what it means in the organic industry. Read More How safe is your organic food? Despite a recent hepatitis A outbreak, “certified” organic foods are not necessarily safety tested

The USDA only started testing about 5% of organic farms in 2012. So once again the “organic” label lets us down. It turns out that it may just be a marketing tool with a lot of hype behind it. As a recent report points out Consumers willing to pay premium for organics, but benefits mostly psychological.

How safe is your organic food?

Despite a recent hepatitis A outbreak, “certified” organic foods are not necessarily safety tested

– See more at: http://www.cfact.org/2013/06/19/how-safe-is-your-organic-food/#sthash.JZI7OOOd.dpuf

Did you assume, like most people do, that the term “certified” meant organic crops were being tested? After all, that is what that term means when light bulbs are certified to 100 Watts or motor oil is certified to 10W30. But that’s not what it means in the organic industry. – See more at: http://www.cfact.org/2013/06/19/how-safe-is-your-organic-food/#sthash.JZI7OOOd.dpuf
Did you assume, like most people do, that the term “certified” meant organic crops were being tested? After all, that is what that term means when light bulbs are certified to 100 Watts or motor oil is certified to 10W30. But that’s not what it means in the organic industry. – See more at: http://www.cfact.org/2013/06/19/how-safe-is-your-organic-food/#sthash.JZI7OOOd.dpuf
A 1990 report in the EPA Journal by three chemists from the agency summarized four studies of fresh tomatoes treated with a fungicide, which were tested at harvest, at the packinghouse and at point of sale to the consumer. The studies showed that more than 99 percent of the residues were washed off at the packinghouse by the food processor. – See more at: http://findourcommonground.com/food-facts/food-safety/#sthash.GjP7qxih.dpuf
A 1990 report in the EPA Journal by three chemists from the agency summarized four studies of fresh tomatoes treated with a fungicide, which were tested at harvest, at the packinghouse and at point of sale to the consumer. The studies showed that more than 99 percent of the residues were washed off at the packinghouse by the food processor. – See more at: http://findourcommonground.com/food-facts/food-safety/#sthash.GjP7qxih.dpuf

So what are consumers to do?

While the organic label may not be a guarantee that you are actually getting fewer pesticides or being raised sustainably there are still farmers who grow food to meet those standards. Which is where local foods come in. When you go to a farmers market or farm stand you have the opportunity to talk to those raising the food about how it was grown. Plus local foods travel fewer miles to get to you, which is a bonus for freshness and sustainability. Finding those local food spots doesn’t have to be hard. We’ve put together a resource for you on our Local Food page. Begin by finding out what Oregon produce is grown in your back yard.

The label may just be hype but farmers are the real deal. Most of the farmers I know whether organic or conventional care about the sustainability of their farm and are constantly looking for ways to improve so they can preserve the land for the next generations.

Arwen McGilvra is a farm girl, whose family owns a multi-generation farm here in the Willamette Valley. Currently the farm raises seed crops, mostly grass seed. But in the past they’ve raised everything from strawberries to flax (which was used to make linen parachutes for WWII) to onions. She’s a member of American Agri-Women and it’s local affiliate Oregon Women for Agriculture. Passionate about farming and science, Arwen also enjoys gardening. Professionally she is a content manager and web developer known as The Tech Chef.

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Consumers willing to pay premium for organics, but benefits mostly psychological

Organic marketing: Not truthful, often misleading

Economist Tyler Cowen Says Organic Foods Are Just A ‘Marketing Label’

Making Sense of Food Labels

Consumer Reports Organic food labels don’t always mean what you think