What is “organic” all about anyway? Concisely, “organic” is about responsibility, with an emphasis on sustainability.
Many people think “organic” is almost synonymous with “no pesticides.” While that precept is extremely important, organic principles actually teach us to be responsible in many different ways. They teach us to learn more about the needs of living organisms and hazards to living organisms; to learn more about what damages the soil, water, and air; to learn more about what improves the soil; to learn more about how soil characteristics, determined by farming practices, directly relate to taste and nutrition.
While the Chinese have managed to maintain soil fertility in some areas for over 3000 years, many of the farmers in California's Central Valley have managed to almost completely destroy the fertility of their fields in less than 150 years. Before synthetic chemical fertilizers, those fields were some of the world's most fertile. Fortunately, most Chinese farmers know better than to ruin their soil with chemicals mislabeled as fertilizers. Luckily, Americans are finally beginning to learn. My article, Fertilizer Toxicity, goes into considerable detail about what happens to plants and soil when people use ammonium nitrate as fertilizer.
While the federal organic regulations were being legislated about 15 years ago, big industry tried all sorts of tricks, hoping to water those regulations down to the point of uselessness. Fortunately, the organic community was strong enough to prevent a catastrophe. Even so, a few concessions were made to the chemical industry. Certain state agencies have been particularly generous to the chemical industry. Shortly after the State of Washington passed new agricultural laws, I went through several rounds of letters and phone calls with them before finally getting permission to put a typical analysis on a bag of rock dust. The chemical companies thought they had it set up where anytime anything that could be construed as a plant nutrient was mentioned, the product would have to be registered as a fertilizer, and then a guaranteed analysis printed on the label. But the way it worked out; the chemical companies were not quite meticulous enough in the way their sponsored legislation was written. Then I had a similar problem when Oregon told me they would take my bagged worm castings off the shelf if I sold any more that had the word “nutrient” on the label. I had a lot of money invested in unused bags, so would have had yet another fight if I had not decided to get out of the business then.
The feds slightly revised food labeling requirements while writing the new organic regulations. Although our organic foods cannot be irradiated or genetically engineered, it might be nice to know when the rest of our food is. Big industry attempted to obtain permission to put a symbol looking like a flower on irradiated food labels instead of the word “irradiated” It is no surprise they got to use their deceptive flower-like symbol, but amazingly, they were finally required to put “irradiated.” on the label.
While most developed countries require common sense GMO labeling, the U.S. government is run by big business that will not allow it. Under the guise of passing a GMO labeling law, the U.S. Congress actually recently passed a GMO non-labeling law written by the chemical companies. The so-called labeling law exempts certain types of GMOs (maybe more than half). The so-called labeling law also has provisions for the use of QR codes that must be scanned with a cell phone rather than requiring printing the disclosures on the labels. And this sham law, under the guise of creating a national standard, nullified state GMO labeling laws that were about to go into effect. Maybe I am a little demanding, but I think we have a right to know if the DNA in the grains we are eating has been modified with partial DNA sequences from fish.
Even though this next sentence is obvious, I am going to write it anyway. An organic certification only guarantees what it guarantees. It is extremely easy for opponents to skew studies comparing nutrition by simply comparing a batch of poorly grown certified organic produce to a batch of exceptionally grown conventional produce. Another problem is the allowed organic certification of any hybrid, no matter how tasteless and innutritious it might be. Some organic farmers (who are profit-motivated like the rest of us) will tell you that hybridization happens in nature. But what they are not taking into consideration is that nature does not hybridize plants for the purpose of increased yields. And nature does not hybridize plants so their fruits can sit on store shelves for several days without flies, bacteria, or fungi noticing them. If bugs are not interested in certain hybridized fruits and veggies, should we be?
Like everything else, the organic movement faces a whole slew of problems related to bureaucracy, questionable laws, dishonesty, greed, and so on from both within and without. Considering what is at stake, I believe it is important to show support for the organic community in its battle against ruthless corporate greed. The most helpful thing we can do is increase our awareness of what is right and wrong. Signing petitions at sites like centerforfoodsafety.org can also help. That particular organization is making a big difference. It is run by lawyers who are not afraid to take on greedy big business and crooked politicians. They are currently suing to prevent implementation of the phony so-called GMO labeling law in the hope of someday having a real GMO labeling law.