Organics: Who’s Watching your Back?

by Catherine Haug, May 24, 2012

Most people assume if it says “Organic” on the package, it contains no harmful additives and is a healthful food. But this is true only for single-ingredient foods (fresh produce, meat, dairy, eggs); it is not necessarily the case when it comes to processed Organic foods (canned, bottled, boxed, packaged or frozen).

For starters, there are three different Organic labels used on processed foods (foods with more than one ingredient; see The EssentiaList: Natural vs Organic Labeling for more detail):

  • “100% Organic”
  • “Organic” (95% of ingredients by weight are Organic)
  • “Made with Organic” (less than 95% of ingredients by weight are Organic)

And then there are the standards that govern what can and cannot be termed ‘Organic.’ These standards are determined and enforced by:

  • National Organic Program (NOP)
  • National Organic Standards Board (NOSB)
  • Organic Trade Association (OTA)

These organizations are supposed to be keeping the Organic labels true to the name, but recent history reveals that is not the case.

Negligent oversight

From the Organic Consumers Association (OCA):

“The Organic Foods Production ACt and the regulations that implement it are great. They just need to be fully enforced.

Unfortunately, in many instances when large companies violate national organic standards, the response from Congress, the NOP and the NOSB has been to change the law and regulations to match non-compliance rather than to strengthen enforcement.

Here are some examples:

  • In 2005, a court ruled that the NOP was illegally allowing synthetic ingredients in products labeled “USDA Organic.” Rather than tightening up enforcement, the OTA got congress to change the law [to allow the synthetics in Organic-labeled foods].
  • In 2006, the NOP illegally approved synthetic DHA and ARA (fats) for use in “USDA Organic” and these nutraceuticals soon laced nearly every organic baby formula. Last year, the NOP approved the approval was illegal. Instead of enforcing the law, which would have meant changing the labeling of these products from “USDA Organic” to “Made with Organic,” the NOP asked the manufacturer, biotech multinational DSM, to petition the products for placement on the National List of Allowed Substances. The NOSB approved them at the last meeting, even though it was clear that the NOP had not properly vetted DHA or ARA to determine whether they were produced using excluded methods of genetic engineering [GE/GMO].
  • In 2009, the NOP announced that it wasn’t following the organic law’s restrictions on the use of genetically engineered vaccines. Instead of the NOP enforcing the law against this violation, it asked the NOSB to recommend a change in the law and [the NOSB followed through]. Deputy Administrator Miles McEvoy wisely rejected that recommendation, but he still hasn’t made any attempt to enforce current law.
  • A 2010 report by the cornucopia Institute revealed that many organic poultry and egg producers ignore regulations that require animals to have access to the outdoors and direct sunlight, and prohibit any animal’s continuous total confinement. the NOSB and NOP continue to recommend and issue non-binding guidance documents on animal welfare, without taking any action to  enforce current regulations.”

What can you do?

Speak out. Write a letter to the editor. Share this post with your friends. Write to your national legislators, the USDA and the Organics oversight organizations. Join the Montana Organic Association and/or the Organic Consumers Association and offer your help.

Obviously, the Organics oversight organizations are NOT watching our backs, when it comes to the ‘organic’ in organics. So what is a wise shopper or homemaker to do?

  • Avoid all processed foods, even organics;
  • Grow your own: keep a garden & raise your own livestock;
  • Support local CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture). In the Bigfork area we have Swallow Crest Farm;
  • Buy fresh, locally raised foods as your first choice, especially those with the “Certified Naturally Grown” label; fresh Organic foods (produce, dairy, eggs, meats, grains) as your second choice;
  • Eat at local restaurants who buy from local growers;
  • Support your local grocer’s fresh foods department: Bigfork Harvest Foods currently offers local produce from Loon Lake Gardens, and will soon be carrying local produce from the Bitterroot, next to the store’s Organic produce section;
  • Buy single-ingredient foods (produce, meats, dairy, eggs) & prepare your own meals from scratch, or buy from someone who does (and whom you trust);
  • When you must buy processed foods, READ LABELS (but even these cannot be trusted to be complete, and are often misleading);
  • Don’t trust “All Natural” as there are NO regulations and NO oversight regarding the use of this term – even GMO foods can say “all natural” (see The EssentiaList: Natural vs Organic Labeling for more on this)
  • Keep informed!

Right now, big AG wants to be able to use the Organic label on animal products from livestock treated with GMO vaccines. See OCA: GMO Vaccines in Organics for more info

One Response to “Organics: Who’s Watching your Back?”

  1. Andreas Gregory says:

    Organic foods are the best since they dont contain so many toxins compared to synthetic feed foods which might contain melamin and some contamination chemical preservatives. :,***

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