Wednesday, February 2, 2011

the death of "Organic" food

A while ago I wrote a blog about buying organic. I’ve always thought the government’s regulation of the Organic label is a nonsensical aimed to drive profit into the pockets of the food industrialists. With the Organic label in place, we are still buying produce from far away places, the farming methods are still land intensive, and we are still not eating anything that’s much healthier albeit it’s a better alternative than the hormone-injected, petro-chemical fed produce. It was a choice of the two evils.

I’ve started to buy more organic food simply because they are the lesser of the two evil. I had thought the outlook of my food security is somewhat promising if I being to make a conscious choice to facilitate government actions to create a more sustainable local food market for us.
But putting my eggs in the basket of government discretion is like giving the fox the key to the hen house. It appears that in an effort of deregulation, the USDA has effectively labeled the Organic food market into nonexistence. In a recent story from, Why You Can Now Kiss Organic Beef, Dairy and Many Vegetables Goodbye, Ari LeVaux confirmed that USDA will no longer track genetically engineered (GE) seeds that are planted by farmers. This came from an effort from Monsanto: GE crops can now be planted right along side of non-GE crops and the USDA won’t even notify or track these “mix” produce for the consumers. There goes the “Organic” label. Right?

What got some people angry, including The Center for Food Safety, is the potential for cross-contamination between GE and non-GE crops. In fact, The Center for Food Safety had once challenged Monsanto’s efforts in court. In June of last year, the US Supreme Court held that USDA is required to draft an environmental impact statement (EIS) to disclose to the public the impacts of mixing the GE and non-GE crops. (recall an EIS is required for every major federal action "significantly affecting the quality of the human environment")

According to LeVaux,

The EIS was dutifully drafted and released in December 2010. The document airs the concerns expressed by the vast majority of the 200,000-plus comments on GE alfalfa, yet somehow concludes: "...consumer preferences for organic over GE foods are influenced in part by ethical and environmental factors that are likely unrelated to minor unintended presence of GE content in feed crops."

Concluding the article, LeVaux stated:

Widespread genetic contamination has for years been threatening to make the entire GE discussion mute, because once everything is contaminated there will be nothing pure left to protect. In the same way, GE alfalfa threatens to make the whole idea of organic mute.

I had studied genetics for a while in college. My father is a geneticist and had spent his entire life genetically modifying different kind of cells for the benefit of medical research. So for me to mouth-bash genetic engineering is irresponsible and hypocritical. So I did a bit of web surfing and was pointed to a blog by a friend: Organic vs. Conventional Agriculture by Brian Dunning.

I highly recommend this blog. Brian points out some of the fundamental flaws of the Organic culture and forces us to shift our focus to a more important point about our relationship with food:

We should choose farming methods that truly address our real concerns — safety and sustainability — not simply methods that satisfy an arbitrary marketing label. To whatever extent these practices include methods that are permitted under organic rules, that's just fine; but there's never a case when a safe, more efficient, and sustainable modern technology that feeds more people worldwide should be disallowed for no logical reason. Buy whatever produce you see in the market that you like and that's cheap, and don't reward the people who are profiteering by selling you fear.

So this evolution of the relationship with food, our eventual food movement, is more than just about the purity of food and some abstract intangible need to protect the virtue of our food. It’s about sustainability, it’s about environmental justice, it’s about health and welfare of the human race as well as our gracious host – planet earth. While consumers should be motivated by the ethical and environmental factors, it should be inherently driven. It should be more than a label and profits in the pockets of these Organic and conventional food industrialists.

In the end, this is not about buying "Organic." This food revolution is about locality, about regional identity, about food justice and culture, about a health relationship with our food and with each other.
When the USDA and the Supreme Court can figure that into their EIS and judicial discretions, we can hope for meaningful and logical regulation. But until then, we are faced with a regulatory system that does nothing to help us in identifying with our food. We are faced with a pressing issue of food price increases and increased margin of food injustice and inequality.

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