‘Green’ food: is it good value? – Opinion

Popoff is an organic inspector and consultant who lives in Osoyoos, B.C.

On June 30, one of the basic types of “green” farming will receive the golden stamp of approval from the federal government.

Will this have a positive impact for farmers, consumers and the planet? Sadly, no.

There are three types of “green” farming:

1. Organic. Synthetic chemical free, grown in naturally fortified soil within as natural an environment as possible.

2. Biodynamic: All of the above, plus additional strict and esoteric farming practices espoused by the father of biodynamics, Rudolf Steiner.

3. Sustainable: Some of the above, perhaps, but not necessarily so. Any practice that reduces energy consumption, synthetic chemical use, water use or the clearing of natural habitat for farmland, qualifies as sustainable.

The category that generates the most economic activity is certified organic. It’s a multibillion-dollar industry with many organic companies publicly traded on the stock market.

Biodynamics remains restricted to a small market, while the amorphous and as yet undefined category of sustainable is barely making an impact.

Common sense dictates that any definition of what qualifies as organic should include a field test.

Sadly, organic crops are not tested and the organic industry shows no interest in changing that.

In spite of this glaring omission, the government of Canada will give the organic industry its stamp of approval at the end of June.

ADVERTISMENT

Even if you never buy organic, millions of your tax dollars have already been spent on this grand, green experiment, including new offices in Ottawa, numerous staff positions replete with full government benefits, and of course marketing and promotional expenses to try to convince you how great this all is.

Even though organic food, wine, clothing and cosmetics are marketed as being produced without synthetic herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers, no money will be spent on the science to prove it.

Instead, an honour system and nothing more will continue to be relied upon, recognized, approved and promoted by your government.

Try to contain your enthusiasm.

Imagine if athletes competing in the 2010 Olympics merely signed affidavits declaring they were free of performance-enhancing drugs. Imagine how many world records would be broken if they quit testing athletes.

This is how the Canadian Food Inspection Agency plans to enforce what it means to be certified organic.

If you think this will leave the door wide open to fraud, you’re right.

I worked for five years as an advanced organic inspector in the United States and Canada and saw many disturbing cases, none of which were investigated because there is no way for an inspector to test a suspect field.

Only the American organic standard even bothers to stipulate what would be unacceptable in terms of chemical residue levels in an organic crop if a test was done. But the clause is not enforced.

The Canadian standard, meanwhile, makes no reference to chemical residue levels whatsoever.

This means that any amount of synthetic herbicides, pesticides and fertilizer that an opportunist might use will, by federal law, go undetected.

ADVERTISMENT

I was a panelist at the Green Wine Symposium at the 2009 Vancouver International Wine Festival earlier this year.

My message to “green” wine makers was simple: everything important is measurable, otherwise it’s just hype. So either prove you’re green scientifically or don’t make any claim.

As more wine makers, market gardeners, dairy producers, ranchers and cereal farmers look at ways to market their products as green, they’ll have to go above and beyond the mere bureaucracy of federal standards.

Some are pursuing biodynamic or sustainable production methods instead.

Whatever claims they make in the marketplace, they must back it up with objective, provable analysis – with a lab test whenever possible.

Clearly we can’t count on government to act as a green policing or enforcement agent. It has quite literally let the fox watch the henhouse when it comes to organic certification.

That’s not to detract one iota from the many honest organic farmers, processors and retailers who conduct truly green business every day.

It’s merely a statement of fact: the federal government doesn’t care whether or not these businesspeople are honest. It simply can’t be bothered.

Canada’s new organic certification standard is nothing less than a licence to print money.

It falls to every honest producer and purveyor of green food to prove his or her worth directly to consumers.

Otherwise consumers will wonder just what the heck they’re paying for.

ADVERTISMENT

About the author

Mischa Popoff — Mischa Popoff is a former organic farmer and Advanced Organic Farm and Process Inspector. He’s the author of Is it Organic?, which can be previewed at www.isitorganic.ca.

Also by this author