AHEAD OF THE HEARD
Many of us who have watched with some annoying consternation the evolution of organic food marketing have been aware of a glaring discrepancy that advocates try to cover up. It has to do with the plain and simple reality: how does one really know if organic food is really organic? Sellers can put a label on any product and make any claim when it comes to marketing. Government regulators tend not to get involved with marketing unless it involves health, safety and obvious fraud. But even those are subject at times to whim and politics.
The reality with organic food products is that on the whole you have no way of knowing whether it is really organic unless you grew it yourself. The only objective alternative was to have organic food tested for prohibited substances like pesticides and herbicides. That seems simple enough but that approach has been fought tooth and nail by the organic industry and its lobbyists. And they were very successful being all present organic labels, including government ones, are based not on regulation, inspection and testing, but on blind trust.
If that sounds suspicious or open to mischief – you are right and a recent book by Mischa Popoff entitled “Is it Organic?” blows the lid off the bogus nature of organic food labelling. Mr. Popoff isn’t a mainstream food industry spy or some disgruntled agriculture writer, he is one of the organic food industry’s own. Popoff for five years was an organic farm inspector and an instructor. He was one of those folks paid to go out and determine whether an organic farm was actually following organic food production principles as outlined in by the certifying body. If they were officially certified, they could then stick an organic label on their products, which was supposed to provide some assurance to the retail buyer that the product was indeed organic. That looked good on the surface, but there was more to the story.
What Popoff reveals in his book is that the entire organic inspection/certification process is nothing more than a paper audit and a cursory look at the production facilities. Because no sampling is done of the soil, plants, livestock or anything else, no scientific testing is done. This is rather important because it would positively confirm whether the producer is actually following organic production principles or perhaps fibbing. Rather than exercise the precautionary principle that green groups demand of everyone else, in the case of organic food, the principle is “don’t worry trust us.” Perhaps there is a perverse twist to the principle, that being we need to take precautionary steps not to get caught.
That seems to have come to light in some of Popoff’s experiences. He notes that inspections were not to be random and unannounced which might catch a few cheaters. Instead, those growers to be inspected were to be advised well ahead of time that an inspector was coming; better forewarned than caught red-handed and not be certified. There is a vested interest in that, certifying agencies are money-making organizations that get paid to inspect and certify. One might expect that if too many producers are not certified, it would see a reduction in the income of those agencies. Hence inspectors would feel the pressure to approve almost anyone, and inspectors questioning this system would soon find themselves in trouble with their employers – which seems to be what happened to Popoff.
The book does go beyond just the inspection issue. Clearly Popoff is a friend and student of real organic food and its production. The book also contains a highly detailed history of organic practices going back 400 years. Although one ponders: Wasn’t all food growing organic before commercial fertilizers and chemicals came into use about 80 years ago. I quibble, of course. The book is a very honest and enlightening perspective of the rest of the real story of the organic food industry and its powerful lobbying organizations.
Don’t hold your breath of ever seeing this book or its author in a CBC documentary on the fraud that is being perpetrated by organic inspection agencies. What Popoff is exposing is the credibility of green groups and their organic industry allies – daring to challenge these groups on this issue is politically-incorrect to the mainstream media. Only dubious allegations questioning commercial agriculture will ever be considered for investigation by that media. That would be expected of course of a media brain trust that considers David Suzuki to be a near deity.