Tag Archives: Organic Food

About Organic labels…

As I drive into work, I pass several billboards, each extolling the virtues of whatever mediocre product that happens to be plastered to the board. Normally I think of these ads as visual white noise, rarely getting my attention. And if they do, I rarely think of them past the time it takes for my Mini to drive on by.

But this morning changed there was a change in my routine a bit, as I noticed a sign selling Organic Beer (warning: Flash load).

Upon reading that, my initial thought was that I didn’t realize that there was a market demand for organic beer. My second thought was that I hadn’t realized how pervasive the label “organic” had become. I knew it had become the new marketing tool for food producers, but it still made some sort of sense to see it on boxes of Kellogg’s Rice Krispies or bottles Heinz Ketchup. But beer? Do we need to see it on beer?

I’m not so crass as to believe that the folks a Henry Weinhard’s don’t have their heart in the right place. For all I know, they’re fully committed to creating a sustainable product that doesn’t use pesticides and is earth friendly and all of the other buzz phrases that are typically associated with the “organic” term. But I wonder if putting it on as many products as possible dilutes the core principles of the organic movement. Not in the same way that industrial organic has diluted the term, but in a way that makes the word become visual white noise.

As way of a thought experiment, let me list a handful of products:

  • Organic Dog Food
  • Organic Lipstick
  • Organic tomatoes
  • Organic Vodka
  • Organic Apples
  • Organic Frozen Pizza
  • Organic Shampoo
  • Organic Ice Cream

Some of you may think that there’s nothing wrong with any of these products, and you would probably be right. But I’m guessing there’s a handful of you who read the list and said “What the heck?? Organic Lipstick and Organic Vodka?” My question is to those of you who fit the latter category:

Does seeing the “Organic” label placed on every product diminish its value on items where it means something? Does seeing the “Organic” label on Vodka make the organic label on tomatoes seem less important?

In my opinion, it does. The saturation of the organic label is starting to make me tune the word out when I view it on labels.

I don’t believe this to be the fault of food manufacturers, who mostly have the right idea. I think it’s simply a result of an overexposure to the word, so much so that it loses it’s meaning.

Mass-Produced Organic – Questions of Faith

Jack sent me a link about the following product releases: Kelloggs and Keebler (Kelloggs owns Keebler, for those of you who need a scorecard to follow along) recently released a new line of organic products for some of their better selling wares.

And thus, here is the picture that illustrates the thousand words of contradictions that must be going on in the minds of organic advocates everywhere.

There are some out there who will question the motivations of the Kelloggs company. Here are several products, some of which are deeply ensconced in pop culture, who are now entering the realm of organics – a food production philosophy which, until recently, has been strictly a counter-culture approach.

This is the same reason why Wal-Marts organic announcement raised so many eyebrows. Can an institution effectively implement processes and philosphies that were initially designed to combat these institutions? Can they implement them without compromising and/or altering the initial ideals that the organic movement was founded?

If, in looking at the box of Organic Rice Krispies, your mind said something along the lines of “Oh sweet Jesus, this looks ridiculous’ or ‘Muh- WHA? Kelloggs Organics?’, then it’s likely that there’s an initial and cynical doubt in both the practices and motivations of the Kelloggs and Wal-Marts of the world.

But my question is this – If the organic standards are not diluted, should the motivations of any of the institutions using the “organic” label be questioned? If McDonalds started selling “Organic Big Macs’, should we roll our eyes at McDonalds for missing the point or welcome them for being responsible capitalists?

Personally, I’m a littled jaded at these larger companies to trust them completely. The bottom line for most of them is increasing their stock price- period. If producing organic doesn’t add to their profit line, then I believe it’s unlikely that these products will stick around.

However, until it’s determined whether or not these products are viable to these corporate institutions, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. I’m interested in seeing the consumer response to these products, and what lengths these corporations will go to produce them.

Conversely, I’m also interested in seeing how much influence these companies exert on the USDA to change the organic standards. Because it is in that influence that we’ll see the corporations true colors.

Technorati Tags: Food, Organic+Food, Food+Politics

Organic Food, Wheat and Hunger

I received an e-mail the other day, asking me for my commentary on this article in the Economist. The article, initially about the history of wheat but oddly mutates into how genetically modified food will save the world without wheat, hits the major points and accurately reflects the good side of what happens when you feed the people.

But it leaves out one major variable in this component – human greed and it’s power to corrupt the best of intentions.

Let it be said here, on the record, that I have no problem with Genetically Modified (GM) Food that has been shown to be safe to both people and the eco-system. The problem is that several of the producers of GM food whose priority is to genetically tamper with crops for the sake of continual revenue, rather than feeding the hungry.

In my opinion, the number one priority of this planet is to ensure that no one goes hungry. This is a bit pollyannish, I know. But hey, I also hope for world peace and believe that love conquers all.

If I believe that we, as a world community, should be able to feed itself, I should also acknowledge the limitations of certain products. A group of limiting products happens to include organic foods. Norman Borlaug, who I talked about here, once said, “You couldn’t feed more than 4 billion people” on an all-organic diet.

That’s a limitation that’s difficult to ignore.

However, what angers me is how the Monsantos and the Archer Daniel Midlands of the world hide behind the shield of good intentions when others criticize their business practices.

“We’re trying to feed the world” they shout, when people bring up the fact that these companies are advocates for patenting life forms, or introducing terminator genes into crops. While they may be trying to feed the world, they’re trying even harder to ensure regular profits, oftentimes at the expense of feeding the hungry.

Typically, if extensive testing was done on the above practices, with the results made available to the public, I would be willing to give these Bio-Agriculture industries the benefit of the doubt. But they don’t wish to be bothered. “Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food,” said Phil Angell, Monsanto’s director of corporate communications once said in an interview with the New York Times Sunday Magazine. He said, without irony, that testing was the FDA’s job.

Which reminds me of a story–

Once upon a time, in order for the FDA to determine if Monsanto’s growth hormones were safe or not, Monsanto was required to submit a scientific report on that topic. Margaret Miller, one of Monsanto’s researchers put the report together. Shortly before the report submission, Miller left Monsanto and was hired by the FDA. Her first job for the FDA was to determine whether or not to approve the report she wrote for Monsanto. Assisting Miller was another former Monsanto researcher, Susan Sechen.

The result? Monsanto approved its own report.

Doesn’t that fill you with safety and joy?

It’s practices like these that make me advocate for taking two steps back. Yes, we need to feed the world. As I said, I believe it’s our number one priority. If it requires using genetically modified food to do so, then that’s what needs to be done.

However, I have little faith in our current crop of bio-ag industries. They’re playing with our eco-systems with a minimum of regulation. To say this concerns me is like saying the Titanic ran into a bit of trouble. One wrong step by these folks, and we run the risk of inhibiting our ability to feed ourselves as a country.

So I eat local when it’s available, organic when it makes sense to. I give my money to companies and farms who aren’t afraid of transparency, who aren’t afraid of showing the good with the bad. Because if the business models from Monsanto represent a “better way” then we should redefine what constitutes “better”.

Technorati Tags: Food and Drink, Monsanto, Organic Food, Genetically Modified Food

Factory Farms are not Organic Farms

Jack sent me this last night, which I’m going to quote in its entirity.

Stop Factory Farm Dairy Feedlots from Labeling Their Products as “USDA Organic”

Under pressure from big agribusiness, the USDA is deliberately refusing to take action against factory farms who are unethically selling their products as “organic.” This blatant labeling fraud is compounded by a loophole in federal organic regulations that is allowing unscrupulous organic dairy farms to import young calves from non-organic conventional farms (where the animals have been weaned on cow blood, injected or medicated with antibiotics, and fed genetically engineered corn, soybeans and cotton seeds, laced with slaughterhouse waste and tainted animal fats). These confinement and feeding practices are inhumane, unhealthy, environmentally unsustainable, and unfair to genuine organic farmers, who follow strict organic principles on pasture access and animal feed, and do not import animals into their herds from conventional farms.

Some of the factory farms that currently confine thousands of cows in close quarters are operated by leading organic dairies such as Dean Foods (Horizon Organic) and Aurora Organic Dairy (producer of store brand organic milk to chains such as Wild Oats, and supplier to Horizon).

On November 16, in Washington, DC, organic consumer and farm representatives will attend the National Organic Standards Board meeting to urge the USDA to stop allowing giant intensive confinement dairy feedlots to illegally market their milk as “organic.” The OCA will be presenting a petition with thousands of signatures:

Sign Petition to USDA by clicking here

We’ve discussed this aspect of the “organic” labels before. Read the Salon article, as they can sum up better than I.

For those of you who disagree with the above, move along. I’ll get to the high-fat, high butter posts a little later.

Technorati Tags: food, food politics, milk, organic food, organic milk, USDA