I’ve heard people suggest that the “organic” designation is just another scam.
This frustrates me because the organic standard is clearly laid out in legislation and the rules are available online for anyone to see.
A lot of people put a lot of care and effort into organic production. They develop farm plans that meet organic regulations and submit them to certification boards that determine if they’ve met requirements.
They endure annual on-farm in-spections that verify their processes and audit their records. Producers maintain organic integrity throughout the production, storage, cleaning and shipping processes. Then they process according to organic standards, and the processor also undergoes the annual inspection of processes and records.
Producers pay thousands of dollars a year for this scrutiny and verification. There are mechanisms to report cheaters with follow-up inspections and loss of certification for those found negligent or fraudulent.
Of course, all this due diligence doesn’t exempt organic producers and processors from any of the regulations that their non-organic counterparts must follow.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a strong believer in skepticism. And I do understand the cynicism that results from grossly misleading labels and hype, such as the product that claims to be a healthy mix of “hazelnuts, skim milk and just a little cocoa” but has an ingredient list led by hydrogenated oils and various forms of sugar.
Sometimes labels seem designed to catch suckers, and we want to feel superior to that sort of manipulation.
I recently bought a “gluten free” herbal tea. My first thought was that of course it was gluten free — gluten isn’t found in tea herbs. What a gullible crowd their focus groups must be.
However, there may be a deeper layer here. My tea was a dandelion blend, and sometimes dandelion is roasted and mixed with roasted barley to provide a coffee substitute. Perhaps that is what they want to differentiate themselves from.
Is there a deeper level in skepticism around the organic label? Perhaps.
A product that is labelled organic, carries the Canadian organic logo and indicates a certifier is organic. If a farmer or farmers market vendor can show you their certificate, they have been through this process.
However, being organic doesn’t mean a product is magical. This is where some skepticism is required. A lot of claims are made.
Some claims just make sense.
For example, many studies show organic products have much lower levels of pesticide residue. Organic producers are not allowed to use chemicals such as Roundup and 2,4-D, so you would expect lower levels of these chemicals on organic products.
Organic production does not guarantee that the levels are zero.
Organic producers must use due diligence, such as maintaining border strips to reduce spray drift, but they can’t entirely avoid the possibility of chemicals falling in the rain.
However, if you want to reduce your exposure to these chemicals in your diet, the most effective method is to eat organic. If you want to avoid supporting the chemical industry, the simplest way is to eat organic.
Other claims seem to be more naïve.
Will eating organic food cure cancer, make you strong, healthy or morally superior? Will organic production save the planet? Rebuild a humane food system? Feed the world?
Sure, all these claims have been made, and certainly organic production and consumption have a role to play in all these aspects of our lives. But realistically, we live in a complex world where organic production is one part of a much larger picture.
And what about that other claim: “organic is what the people want.”
Organic demand is high. Brokers and buyers claim that supply is not keeping up. Consumers are asking for organic because they want the “values package” of grown without GMOs, pesticides, added hormones and antibiotics.
Why do they ask for this? Are consumers just naïve and don’t really understand agriculture? Perhaps.
But perhaps they are right. Perhaps we take for granted a whole lot of “necessary” practices that could be changed to be more in line with what consumers really want. Organic is part of this trend.
So what does “organic” mean?
It is unambiguous, transparent, third-party verified, grown and processed according to legal standards. It is what it claims to be.
Will eating organic override all the questionable choices in your life? Of course not.
Will organic production overcome all the questionable environmental choices we make? Of course not.
But when we see that Canadian organic logo, that “certified by” statement, that organic certificate, we can trust that it really is organic.