With demand for organics growing every year, the US can’t produce enough to meet the demand, and hasn’t been able to for some time. At least not at a price that US consumers are willing to pay. So we rely on imports from other countries to fill the gap. Imports of organic produce, cattle feed and other organic products has been increasing every year for a long time now. We imported about $1.2 billion worth of organic products last year, and that number is going to keep growing.
That brings up the question of how you know that a product labeled as organic, produced 7,000 miles away, is really organic? You can’t know, of course. You have to rely on government agencies to do the proper inspections, certifications and tracking to make sure the stuff you are buying is really what the seller claims it is.
And apparently USDA and its Agricultural Marketing Service, isn’t doing a very good job of doing any of that according to USDA’s own internal audits. A story originating at Bloomberg reports that USDA’s internal audits indicate that the AMS couldn’t prove that cargo labeled “organic” coming into the US were actually organic. It couldn’t even properly track whether or not the product came from an actual certified organic source.
To quote the report, “The lack of controls at U.S. ports of entry increases the risk that non-organic products may be imported as organic into the United States”.
The problem isn’t just with a potential failure to grow the product according to organic standards, it’s shipping as well. A lot of products, especially bulk shipments of grains, beans, etc, are routinely fumigated by storage facility operators and shipping companies to reduce the formation of mold, prevent rodent infestations, etc, which, of course, violates organic regulations.
So the agency responsible for making sure that organic products coming into the US actually came from certified organic sources, and weren’t fumigated or treated with non-organic substances along the way, pretty much can’t do it’s job.
Kind of depressing, so here’s a picture of one of the cats staring at me while I’m writing this, wondering why I’m not playing with her.
4 thoughts on “That Organic Food You’re Buying May Not Be. Oh, and a Cat Picture.”
Organic – an idea of dubious actual value in it’s current definition but much marketing value. So ultimately, from the grocer’s veiw point – who cares. They sell the idea, not the actuality.
I like more specific labels but I find them fairly dubious as well. Cage Fee Eggs. Free Range Beef. No antibiotic. These ideas seems more specific but ultimately I have not idea how true it is.
I think we would have more local produce if we focused on one positive thing instead of the strict plethora rules of “organic” which makes it nearly impossible to achieve in a countryside saturated in pesticides and the very natural advent of sick animals needing to be treated.
The whole labeling system tends to break down as unscrupulous growers and processors twist and wriggle through loopholes. Or the terms themselves are meaningless because they aren’t defined by law, like “all natural” which essentially means nothing, but sounds really good in the advertising.
I have mixed feelings about organics. I like the concept, but it has problems, not the least of which is that I think that having to ship organic produce 5,000 miles or more from places where it’s produced by laborers who are often paid just barely enough so they don’t starve to death isn’t exactly all that “organic” nor ethical.
I found a story on line earlier this summer that documented how most “organic” food is questionable because it is grown outside the USA and the retailers hire private contractors (who can’t be trusted) to verify organic status, or rely on self-reporting from the producers (which REALLY can’t be trusted).
You are absolutely right, of course, they can’t be trusted. We know from history that without a good inspection and verification system by independent agencies these labeling systems are meaningless.
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