Organic feed imports glitch in production guarantee

The organics industry is under constant scrutiny to ensure its methods of production are true to its roots and that regulations and practices are followed so consumers know they are getting the environmental ethos they desire when they pay extra at the supermarket.

The Organic Federation of Canada notes that the National Standard of Canada for Organic Agriculture, which regulates farming, livestock and processing practices used to produce organics, has rules that must be “comparable to the standards of trading partners who sell organic products on the international market.” Comparison tables exist for the European Union, the United States and Japan.

However, feed for organically raised livestock is pouring into Canada and the United States from other countries.

So we should pay attention when a feed supplier such as Tom Manley expresses exasperation over the lack of non-genetically modified feed for organics producers.

“(I’m) flabbergasted by the way that not enough Canadian farmers are taking up the (organic) opportunity,” said Manley, who supplies feed and agronomic services to organic farmers in Central and Eastern Canada and the U.S. “I don’t get it. The grains are worth twice the price. What the hell is wrong, you guys? Why aren’t you producing?”

The decision to transition to organics from conventional farming goes beyond profit. The transition time, about three years, and the workload — more tillage —are part of the reason people don’t leap into organics. So change in the industry can be slow.

While there is no way to track how much organic feed is being imported from overseas to Canada, dairy producers in the U.S. import significant amounts of organic feed grains from countries such as Romania and Turkey. Organic feed corn is imported from Croatia, Bulgaria and the Balkans. India is another source of organic feed. In Canada, dairy producers import less organic feed, but hog, chicken and egg producers are thought to rely on imports.

Some countries producing organic feed for North American farmers have significant levels of corruption, as noted in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. If confidence in government oversight is dubious, how can we have confidence that feed certified organic in those countries is authentic?

It’s a blind eye thing.

The problem is evident in the audit process. In Canada, it’s up to manufacturers to certify feed organic, but it is not possible to verify organic practices in countries where corruption is manifest.

So there is a disconnect between the organic movement and its philosophical cousin — the local food movement — and those who are importing organics from overseas, both with the authenticity of organic feed and the fact that far-away imports are environmental anathema.

Said Warren Taylor, an Ohio creamery operator: “It’s completely antithetical to the founding principles of the organic industry that we’ve allowed the supply chains to go this way…. There is no justifying this.”

Strong words.

If the organics industry did not accept feed from countries where it is not possible to authenticate organic practices, the supply in North America would indeed dwindle, driving up the price of feed here, perhaps high enough that more farmers would make the transition into producing organic feed.

The increased costs could well be passed on to consumers, who are devout in their purchasing patterns, with the affirmation that the entire organic chain is genuine.

Such an initiative might yield a long-term solution to feed shortages and ensure the real thing.

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