Something a little different today. For years I've posted studies showing that eating organic foods lowers pesticide levels in the body quickly, eating organic foods is the only way to avoid the presence of the controversial pesticide glyphosate (Roundup) in food, the nutritional profile (especially fatty acids) of meat and milk from grass-fed, pasture raised animals is different and healthier than conventionally raised animals (and even organic animals not raised on pasture), and on and on. In other words, eating organic foods has health benefits. All good.
But meanwhile, the National Organic Program and National Organic Standards Board (which controls the national organic foods certification program) is being influenced by big agriculture lobbying - to the dismay of real organic farmers. Yes - real organic farmers, who farm the way we expect our organic meat and crops to be raised. You know - cows grazing outside, chickens pecking away for insects outside, crops being raised in real soil (and not hydroponics). But ... Big Agriculture with the mega-farms and lots of chemicals, and animals confined by the thousands indoors, have decided they want a piece of the organic action, and have now influenced the National Organic Program and National Organic Standards Board with the result of weakening of organic standards. But there are other problems too with the organic program as it currently exists.
The Washington Post did a series of articles last year about a huge issue of fraud - about how so-called organic food from other countries may really not be organic (esp. corn and soybeans), and this mega-influx of fake organic food with lower prices is something real organic farmers in the US can't compete with. Also, how "larger agricultural companies have sought to loosen organic rules in the name of efficiency and affordability". The organic market is a big one, and growing bigger every year (billions of $$). It benefits large corporations and huge mono-crop farms financially to have watered down standards.
Another example: the organic milk that one buys may not really be organic (and the same issue with organic chickens). Organic dairies are supposed to have their dairy cows out grazing in the pasture for a minumum of 120 days per year - it is a requirement. But big dairies that are only organic in name ignore that requirement - such as the huge Aurora Dairy. Yup, they lie. And in September 2017, the USDA (US Department of Agriculture) didn't punish the 15,000 cow Aurora Dairy - instead they "exonerated the enormous Aurora Dairy CAFO (Confinement Animal Feeding Operation) of any wrongdoing at their Colorado “farm.” This dairy operation was described in detail in one Washington Post article, along with compelling test results to prove the cattle weren’t on pasture." So of course now they and other mega-dairies will just ignore the organic regulations, because they can without any penalty.
And finally, the USDA (US Department of Agriculture) recently told the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) that, going forward, they will be severely limited in the scope of their work, and will not even discuss organic integrity. Basically cutting them off at the knees.
So what is a person who want to buy real organic food, food that complies with the spirit and rules of organic production? One could buy from farmers that one personally knows, one could do a lot of research to find good brands that are really organic (Cornucopia Institute does research and has scorecards for eggs, dairy, and other foods). Or one could pay attention to new emerging certification by organic farmers who want to maintain good organic standards.
Two main groups have sprung up to deal with this issue. They want an additional new label on top of the USDA's certified organic label that indicates a food was farmed according to their higher standards. One such group (board members are from Patagonia, Rodale Institute, Dr. Bonner, etc.) wants to call their label Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC). Another group of farmers, advocates, and past members of the National Organic Standards Bureau started the Real Organic Project - with a Real Organic Standards Board, an organic certification process, etc. The proposed labels would exclude from organic certification certain non-organic processes (which are currently happening in "organic farms" in the US) - such as large livestock farms that don’t pasture their animals (known as contained animal feeding operations or CAFOs), hydroponic farming, and other practices.
We'll see which (if any) group's certification and label will be adopted across the US. But there is concern from small and medium sized farmers about the extra cost and paperwork this would mean for them - all certifications are costly, and can they afford it? Or will it further marginalize small and medium sized organic farms who decide they can't afford extra certification expenses?
After talking to numerous farmers at farmer's markets and farm stands in the last decade - none of this surprises me. I met many farmers who proudly proclaimed that their food was "beyond organic" and followed traditional organic principles and practices - all "beyond" the basic standards of the National Organic Program. The new additional organic label could help small organic farms, even though some farmers already say they can't afford current organic certification, even though they farm organically. However, it would also give consumers more information and choices about their food.
For those who feel strongly about organic food issues, and want to know more, the Organic Consumers Association has an interesting web-site and blog, and involves citizens at the grassroots level. The Cornucopia Institute (mentioned above) conducts research and investigation, and acts as a watchdog organization for organic agriculture. The Organic Center is involved with the current scientific research on organic agriculture and health. An article from 2015 lists more groups, including organic farm associations in the US and elsewhere in the world.
Meanwhile, keep supporting organic farmers and eating organic foods if you can. One reason is that a disturbing new study from 2017 shows that pesticide residues in conventional foods are increasing - and we don't really know what these chronic low levels from foods that we eat daily does to us. Some pesticide residue levels (such as glyphosate) are increasing because more crops are being treated with glyphosate, either in genetically modified crops to make them glyphosate resistant or in regular crops right before harvest (pre-harvest application).