I stumbled upon something that is very disheartening. I guess I was being willfully ignorant until now, and I feel violated. I was lead to believe that by making the choices I was making, I limited exposure, helped the soil, and fed the safest food for my family. But after the research I did, I’m crushed. The dismal truth is, we simply cannot trust our food system. The USDA never ceases to amaze me. From deeming GMO’s safe for “human consumption” to banning raw milk in certain states, I don’t know why I chose to trust them when it came to “organic foods.”
I never really looked deep into what the USDA organic seal actually meant. I, like most everyone else, believed it was the better choice. Truth is, it may not be. I like to think that people have other’s best interest at the front of their minds at all times. Time and time again, I’m proven wrong. I just don’t get it. Call me naive, but how can an organization who’s JOB is to make our food safe, be so deceptive. But I digress. Back to USDA organic.
What does USDA Organic Mean?
According to the USDA, “organic products have strict production and labeling requirements.” These include:
- Produced without excluded methods (e.g., genetic engineering), ionizing radiation, or sewage sludge.
- Produced per the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (National List).
- Overseen by a USDA National Organic Program- authorized certifying agent, following all USDA organic regulations.
There are 4 categories of organic labeling: 100% organic, organic, made with organic ingredients, and contains organic ingredients. If something is marked as 100% organic, the ingredients must be 100% in compliance with the regulations listed above and may display the USDA “certified organic” seal. To be labeled “Organic” 95% of the ingredients must be in compliance and may also display the USDA seal. If a product is labeled “Made with Organic Ingredients” at least 70% of the ingredients must be organic and cannot display the seal. Anything less than 70% can label in their ingredient lists what is organic and may not use the seal.
I’m looking at this and thinking “Huh? How can they label something “Certified Organic” and it only contain 95% organic ingredients? What’s that other 5%? I can’t freaking pronounce some of that stuff!” (Find that list here). At any rate, it’s misleading and I don’t like it. So I dug deeper.
What’s Wrong with the USDA Organic Label?
So the USDA wants to get a little sly with their labeling laws, shame on me for not paying attention. What gets me is the USDA is dishonest and capitalizes on this industry at the expense of our health, on purpose. That *ticks* me off. I put my trust and money into something I was made to believe was true and honest. Only to find out, I wasted 100′s (if not 1000′s) of dollars on something that “could not be” organic. Here are my issues:
1. The USDA has set up the National Organic Program (NOP) to oversee organic farm and their processing, production and certification. The NOP then gives the oversight to “third party agents” who handle the certifications. These third parties test the soil, make sure they are in compliance with the rules and regulations, that no synthetic compounds are being used, etc. Problem is, they are paid by the farmers. To me, this seems sketchy.
2. Back in 2010 the Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that several companies were selling conventionally grown food illegally labeled organic. It took 32 months for them to respond to some complaints (which allowed conventional foods to still be sold as organic). There also was no follow up to several formally filed complaints. Now, if third party agents are required to check every certified farm and company at least 1x per year, how is it that these issues can go unresolved for so long? Beats me.
3. These third party agents are supposed to be doing residue testing for pesticides. Since the Act was in place in 1990, this has not been done; according to the OIG report. I’m sorry, WHAT?! You mean to tell me, they aren’t following their own rules? Lord help us all. Most disheartening yet is a news clip I watched in regards to chemicals in organic foods. ABC 15 aired a story in Feb. 2013 which showed out of 33 products they tested (from store shelves), 12% tested positive for pesticides not approved for use, with an additional 10% having trace amounts. That’s 22% people. Sure, some of it was cross contamination or bad soil. But it’s there…and they aren’t doing anything about it. Did I mention that some fresh “organic” basil they pulled had Metalaxyl? That stuff is illegal by the way.
I’m not about to explain all of the issues I have with the USDA/FDA in regards to organic labeling. It’s too frustrating, and goes to show that anytime the government gets involved in our food supply…we no longer can trust it. But, something can be learned from all this research. As angry as I might be, I must slap some sense into myself.
What does this mean for you and me?
1. Do your research. What does organic mean? It means derived from nature. According to “organic” laws, only synthetic compounds cannot be used. Therefore, chorine (an organic compound) could (and is used) in organic production; as well as other undesired compounds. Don’t get mad about this. It’s well within the laws of “organic” for these types of chemicals to be used. It is you and I that mistakenly believe “organic” is synonymous with zero chemicals. It’s important for you to know exactly what is going on, so you can make informed choices.
2. Use caution. I will venture to say that certified organic food is a much better choice than it’s conventional counterpart. Not only is it better for the environment (despite the flaws), but it significantly reduces your exposure to unwanted chemicals. Not only that, but it almost eliminates your consumption of GMOs. However, organic is not the “end all be all.” You need to know where your food is coming from, and don’t assume because it is “certified” that it’s the better choice.
3. Shop local. This one’s tricky for me. Does local mean in your city, in your county, in your state, or in your country? If you feel comfortable and are willing to eat local to your city and state, then you don’t need to find certified organic farms! Get to know your farmer. They may farm better than the USDA guidelines for organic. However, if you can’t eat/won’t eat strictly to your city and state, then eat local to your country. I would chose organic for non local (state) foods. Don’t buy foods imported, organic or not. Not only is the nutrient content lowered, but the regulations for incoming foods are abysmal (in the news story I referenced earlier, the products that tested for pesticide residue all came from Mexico, just so you all are aware).
4. Don’t stress. Don’t stress about organics not being organic. Don’t stress about eating conventional foods. Do what you think is best, and let that be that. We all must pick and chose our battles.
What are your thoughts? Do you buy local, organic or neither?