ESSAY OF THE WEEK
A recent series of articles by a Washington Post reporter could have some consumers questioning the value of the USDA organic seal. But are a few bad eggs representative of an entire industry?
Consumers are all for cracking down on the fraudulent few who, with the help of Big Food, big retail chains and questionable certifiers give organics a bad name. But they also want stronger standards, and better enforcement—not a plan to weaken standards to accommodate “Factory Farm Organic.”
The Washington Post exposed a couple of major brands, certified organic, that don’t strictly adhere to organic standards. The Post and others also recently reported on what one lawmaker, who serves on a key U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) committee, called “uncertainty and dysfunction” at the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).
All these reports are troubling on multiple levels, especially to consumers who rely on the USDA organic seal to help them avoid pesticides, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), synthetic ingredients and foods produced using methods that degenerate soil health and pollute the environment. (It’s important to note that none of these reports address the biggest marketing and labeling fraud of them all—products sold as “natural,” “all natural” and “100% natural,” a $90-billion industry that eclipses the $50-billion certified organic industry).
What can consumers do to ensure that the certified organic products they buy meet existing organic standards? And how do we, as consumers, fight back against efforts to weaken those standards?
The short answers: There are about 25,000 honest organic local and regional producers, vs. a handful of big brands, mostly national, who flout the rules. And if consumers want stronger, not weaker organic standards, we need to demand them.