Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Organic Doesn't Mean Perfect but Definitely Better

As you know I have been an organic gardener for a long, long time and as such I've been a supporter and subscriber to Organic Gardening magazine from The Rodale Institute for more than 30 years. In response to an article in the NY Times It's Organic, but Does That Mean It's Safer? they have produced a very good article about the safety of organic food. This is one of the things that Rodale does well. In plain language they explain how organic IS better than conventional, and what the limitations of organic are. The absurd thing is that PCA's Texas plant was certified organic even though they were totally filthy. The good thing is that Obama's USDA team has all ready changed the requirements for organic inspectors in that they also have responsibility to report issues around food safety in addition to their organic testing and certification (bottom paragraph).
  • Organic agriculture uses life-giving production practices that yield sustainable levels of healthy crops that are demonstrably more nutritious than their conventional counterparts in very specific ways. Certified organic farms do this without using toxic materials (routinely used in conventional agriculture), meaning they are producing food and economic good without contributing to agricultural pollution from these materials. Thanks to them, all of us-organic consumers and everyone else-enjoys a reduced risk of negative environmental, climate and human-health impacts.
  • The same safety standards and inspections apply to all food processed in the US. There are federal, state and often county requirements for food processing, retail sale and food preparation, with enforcement that varies from lax (as in the peanut case) to abusive (as in the case of raw milk in some jurisdictions), but often with enough common sense and responsibility that most food (of whatever dubious quality) comes through to the consumer without pathogenic contamination. Organic food gets no pass just because it's organic, so what works (or fails to work) for non-organic food applies to the certified food, as well.

    Organic farms and organic processors have additional inspection and documentation, at each step of the way, to ensure that the entire range of organic standards is followed. This means there are more eyes and more attention given to production and handling, a layer and audit trail of process/input material review that conventional agriculture does not have.

    "No other food system in the world is based on the requirement for integrated natural practices the way organic is," Moyer said.

    He points out, however, that organic standards do not address food safety. That was never the intent, as it is already the being addressed by a patchwork of existing structures and regulations.

  • To bolster what organic inspectors already do in terms of checking on extensive organic criteria aimed at preserving food quality and traceability, the acting director of the USDA's National Organic Program decreed Feb. 25 that all organic inspectors-as accredited representatives of the USDA-are also obligated to formally report health or safety violations or visible indicators of potential threat, such as pests or feces. No facility will henceforth receive or maintain organic certification "...when current health or safety inspections have not been granted or renewed for the facility."

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