Merriam-Webster defines organic as “relating to, yielding, dealing in, or involving the use of food produced with the use of feed or fertilizer of plant or animal origin without employment of chemically formulated fertilizers, growth stimulants, antibiotics, or pesticides.” If we each were to write our own definition of “organic”, it probably wouldn’t be far off from this statement. In other words, foods made or grown without the aid of synthetic products.
The USDA created the National Organic Program whose mission is to ensure the integrity of our organic products. This mission is accomplished through the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). The board is made up of farmers/growers, environmentalists/resource conservationists, consumer/public interest advocates, handlers/processors, a retailer, a scientist and a USDA accredited certifying agent. All sounds pretty reasonable, right?
The NOSB definition of organic is quite a bit more complex than Merriam-Webster’s: Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. In my opinion, this definition opens up a lot of wiggle-room in its interpretation.
The NY Times recently published a very interesting article calling into question the influence of big business in the definition and labeling of the term “organic”. The fact is, “organic” has become a lucrative business, and as such, has big business influence. This trend is reflected in the makeup of the board with four seats going to members with ties to big business (Earthbound, Driscoll Strawberry Associates, Whole Foods, and Zirkle Fruit Company).
I do believe everyone has a vested interest in producing high quality food, including large business. However, the list of inorganic products on the approved list continues to grow. According to the NY Times, there are over 250 inorganic products/items on the list, some of which have caused quite a debate among purists.
I don’t know about you, but this is a big concern for me. How are we to trust our food labels and make informed purchases? I want to be assured that the food I buy and feed my family is free of pesticides, herbicides, carcinogens and synthetic materials. If you are concerned about the direction we are heading in, contact the NOSB and let the Board know what you think!