As organic food enters the mainstream via the USDA's new national standards, many of the organic agricultural principles and food system concerns which were important to its pioneers may end up diluted or even totally ignored.
These standards provide the rules by which private and state organizations will certify farms and food as organic. They are somewhat better than the USDA's first attempt back in 1997. However, the new standards contain loopholes which could allow the use of genetic engineering, irradiation, sewage sludge and animal factories. They also will likely harm the small-and medium-sized organic farms and non-profit farmer organizations which began the organic movement.
With these standards, about half of the current organic farms in New York and Connecticut will not have to be certified at all because their sales are less than the $5,000 level above which certification is required. This will create unfair and confusing situations at farmer's markets where one farmer has to pay high fees and be inspected while another need only verbally affirm his practices just because of a few-hundred-dollar difference in sales receipts. The standards were supposed to correct this kind of confusion.
The new standards should facilitate large-scale, industrial, organic agriculture and exports of organic products. Ecosystems, farm workers and consumers will benefit if more and larger farms use fewer toxic pesticides and chemical fertilizers as a result of these standards. Unfortunately, this success will come at the expense of many of the values that organic pioneers consider critically important. High certification fees and extensive record-keeping requirements will encourage large-scale monocultures. They will discourage the integration of plants and animals and the diversity of crops which are required for a truly ecological agriculture. The standards will do nothing to address the treatment of farmworkers, fossil-energy use, wasteful packaging or the preservation of local farms.
The rules for organic compost are unnecessarily strict for small farms and exclude vermiculture, or composting with worms. And, there is no provision for ongoing improvment in the standards.
Worse yet, the new standards make organic farmers bear the responsibility for and costs of contamination by pesticides or genetically-engineered pollen drifting from conventional farms. The polluters get away free and the harmed have to pay and pay.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
This page and its contents are copyright