Friday, April 04, 2008

Is it really organic?

So, the USDA says a product labeled 'organic' has to have at least 95% organic ingredients (excluding water and salt, because let's face it, if you're the kind of person who's bought into he idea of 'organic water,' the pesticides have probably affected your brain function already).
Organic means (in the US, at least) that no pesticides, artificial fertilizers, bioengineering, routine antibiotics, irradiation or sewage sludge (ew) are involved in the production/packaging of the food...but it's possible to comply with the letter of the law, and meet the standards of the National Organics Program Standards Board, without necessarily sticking with the spirit of the regulations. Particularly when large companies are involved, and maintaining the sort of close relationship with the land/animals that family farmers have would involve cutting into profits. Quelle suprise, eh? I'm not saying multimillion dollar corporations are always horrible, or perennially on the take, but damned if I've ever heard of a small farm trying to pass off conventional products as organic, or heard that they don't dose their cows with antibiotics or hormones but keep them in feedlots rather than letting them graze freely. Or trying to sell you organic chicken chunks when the chickens only got to go outside for 30 seconds a day (Yes, Virginia, there is such a product as 'chicken chunks.' I'm sorry you had to find out this way).

Check out this Mother Jones article, "Organic Milk Goes Corporate," or look at the Cornucopia Institute website. I was bummed to discover that Stonyfield Farms, which I like, and imagined was owned by a group of upstart little farmers somewhere, is in fact now run by the France-based multinational Danone group. They still use locally harvested organic milk, however (mixing together milk from a bunch of family farms, which is better than, say, sourcing powdered organic milk from New Zealand, like another company--I'm not sure which--does). As for Horizon Organics, despite the cute-as-all-get-out cow on the label (if there were a T-shirt with the Horizon Organics logo on it, I would totally buy one. Heck, I'd buy underwear with that on it..."Eat organic!" Heh, heh.) it seems that they're run by some slippery--not to say slimy, necessarily--folk. Dean Foods, too. The letter of the law, not the spirit. Meh. Maybe I'll just eat soy yogurt instead.

Note: I edited this from its original form--it turns out I didn't have everything completely straight. Luckily Mark from the Cornucopia Institute dropped by and set me straight. Yay people who care enough to interact with the public and hand out a little edu-ma-cation!

1 comment:

The cornucopia Institute said...


You should note that although Stonyfield is indeed owned (70%) by a giant French conglomerate they still manufacture their yogurt in New Hampshire and all the milk comes from family farmers in the region.

We shouldn't judge corporations by their size but rather by their corporate ethics. So far, Stonyfield is still one of the heroes in their support of organic food and farming.

I wish I could say the same thing for Horizon and the $10 billion corporation, Dean Foods, that owns the brand. Their 8000-head factory farm in desert-like conditions of Idaho is a stick in the eye to those of us who truly believe in organics.

Mark Kastel
Senior Farm Policy Analyst
The Cornucopia Institute
Cornucopia, Wisconsin