All food has a story. As a responsible consumer (and, in my case, producer), we want to know what those stories are so that we can make the best, most informed decisions when it comes to what goes on our plate. The hard part is often knowing what that story is. The production, processing, and marketing of our global food supply are increasingly in the hands of only several multinational corporations.
All Natural? Free-Range? Anti-biotic free? Grass-fed? Naturally grown? rBGH free? Organic? These are ubiquitous terms and labels in the grocery store – for the consumer, they are buying guides, and for the businesses that are selling the food, they are marketing tools. They are often tangled with vaguely formed definitions, created from public opinion, marketing and the media. If you want to know the story of how the food got into your hands, and potentially go on to nourish you and your family, these labels often don’t help very much. Where is the traceability, credibility, and accountability?
In 2002 the federal government signed the standards for organic production and processing into law. This means that every certified organic farm has signed a contract to practice what is allowed by the National Organic Program definitions, and every year these farms must prove that they are following this code. This means that the philosophy of organic farming, loosely based on farming in ways that were healthier (or at least less risky) for people and the environment than the increasingly widespread methods based on utilizing synthetic products originally produced and manufactured for warfare by chemical companies, was taken out of the hands of numerous growers and certifiers and placed into the safe keeping of the NOP.
So how are the organic standards developed and upgraded? While the EPA regulates the use of pesticides and fertilizers for conventional agriculture, the National Organic Standards Board regulates organic. Some argue that the EPA does a better job of researching and regulating pesticides than the NOSB. Many organic farms and brands are owned by the few corporations that dominate our food supply, and through the Organic Trade Association lobby group, have a heavy influence on the policy developed by the NOSB. And now we have organic equivalency trade agreements with Canada, the European Union, and Japan. Will this help improve the economy, create jobs, and increase the global organic acreage to the overall benefit of society? Or is it evidence that the philosophy of organic is deteriorating into (BIG) business as usual? It’s a complicated question.