Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Is it Organic? Or Just Marketing?

If you asked me to show you a label on our meats, eggs, dairy and most of our produce to show you it was "organic," I couldn't do it. Truth is, most of the farmers whom we source our foods from are not registered as "organic" and don't care to do the paperwork or pay the fees for a largely "name-only" mark. I know from a handshake, or a farm visit, that the food we buy is raised with care. As I learn more about food regulation and issues, the "organic" label is beginning to mean far less. Even if it is not less at the cash register.

Take, for example, the recent legal complaints that The Cornucopia Institute has filed with the USDA against Aurora Organic Dairy. The USDA found 14 violations by the company including confining animals to feedlots and the mixing of conventially-fed and -raised dairy cattle with the organic operation. Thus, charging consumers more for a dairy product that was not organic. The USDA failed to penalize Aurora for any of the violations. The milk produced by Aurora can be found under the private labels for stores such as Wal-Mart, Target, Costco, Wild Oats, and Safeway.

Another interesting item regarding Big Organic is just who owns those quaint-sounding farm names that you find on the "organic" packages. Names like Seeds of Change, Odwalla, Back to Nature? Follow the corporate ownership on most of these labels will land you at the doorstep of companies like Heinz, Cargill, ConAgra, Kraft and even M&M Mars. In fact, many popular organic labels are owned by the top 25 food processing companies in the nation. See for yourself.

In fact, as more and more mass retailers hitch their profits to the organic wagon, it leaves us consumers with even less ability to blindly trust the "organic" label as we rush through the store trying to buy decent food amidst bagged lettuce and meat recalls, new research on food additives and high-fructose corn syrup. We can't just blindly trust organic as this slide show of a mass retailer demonstrates.

I am grateful that I have enough local options that we have cut our grocery store list by half. For the remaining half, I'll be looking at that label and the cost even closer.


Pat Yourell said...

I sure do like organic. But when you start seeing organic Cheerios and, yes, even worse: organic Cheerios marketed under another less corporate sounding name...ugh, too sneaky for me.

Anyway, I have a farm and I'm trying to make things go...and they seem to be going OK right now. And I have folks like you to thank. Thanks for getting the word out about local, which is at least as important as, if not more important than, organic.


The Expatriate Chef said...

You are welcome, Pat. THANK YOU most of all for the labor of love that is sustainable farming. Our lives would be far less healthy and enjoyable without farmer's efforts. My best to you.

Pat Yourell said...

Awesome. It's a fun way to spend 9 or 10 months of the year.

And please stop by my infrequently updated blog as frequently as you can stand it. It needs the company.

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