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Don't trust the organic label

By Mischa Popoff
web posted April 11, 2011

In addition to minimizing our reliance on the internal combustion engine, fossil fuel, electricity, synthetic fertilizer and laboratory analysis, something else that's being severely curtailed in the slow, organic, biodynamic, green, natural food movement is the use of modern, disease resistant seed varieties. Why? Because they're new silly.

Rather than accept any modern convenience, slow organic activists promote old seed varieties with reckless abandonment. We're not talking about genetically modified seed here; we're talking about the elimination of seeds that have simply been bred over the decades to protect a crop against common threats like rust, fungus and mildew which can wipe out a field as thoroughly as any hail storm.

I am an ardent proponent of organic farming. I grew up on an organic farm, and worked for five years as an Advanced Organic Farm and Process Inspector in the United States and Canada. With this background I am of the firm opinion that organic farming is still 100 percent organic even when it moves with the times. The main goal of organics is to avoid toxins that end up in our food and the environment. So why the heck would we avoid using advanced seeds?

The gross assumption on the part of urban organic activists − who've never worked a day on a farm − is that old varieties are better because they were bred in an era when pesticides and synthetic fertilizers did not exist and they therefore must possess such inherent qualities as natural pest resistance and the ability to seek nutrients deeper in the soil without synthetic fertilizer. It's fanciful thinking which has never been researched, but hey… who needs science man?

Research papers filed away in an agricultural department at a university somewhere explain why such seed varieties were long ago abandoned. But the activists can't be bothered to read them. After all, they have faith… blind faith. So, all together now… if it's old seed it's good seed! The result is that organic farmers the world over are being, shall we say, "encouraged" to use old seed varieties that no one knows anything about, all in the name of rejecting everything modern.

Sorry… but that simply ain't organic where I come from.

Just how pervasive is this urban romantic view? Well, North America's largest organic certifier, The Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA), routinely chooses their "Outstanding Organic Farmer of the Year" based first and foremost on the farmer's use of old varieties, along with other hare-brained factors such as a farmer's use of lunar charting. And no one in the organic industry cares what the long-term consequences might be just as long as the script sells.

This "philosophy" (and I use the term loosely) is supposed to be the salvation for the Third World and, if urban-organic enviro-activists get their way, the whole world! And if you're a farmer, make dam sure you're records are all in order or these urbanites will boot you right out of their club!

Why is record-keeping so important if you want to be considered a true organic practitioner? Simple my friend, because there is no field testing done in the organic industry to ensure people are actually following the rules and avoiding toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizer.

What?? No testing?? I hear you asking. Yep. No testing.

President Bill Clinton and the America Consumers Union (ACU) wanted testing back in 1997 when the USDA's National Organic Program was first tabled, but the whole idea was watered down into oblivion with the addition of the following key sentence: "However, this is not a routine practice conducted on every operation." You can see where that might lead to a situation where no organic farm in the United States and Canada has been field tested in the last 14 years.

A new administrator at the USDA by the name of Miles McEvoy promises to change that by testing 10 percent of domestic organic farms this year. But are you ready for the catch? (There's always a catch in such matters.) Domestic organic farmers fill only 15 percent of the domestic, $30-billion-per-annum market for organic food in the United States and Canada. The other 85% comes from places like China, Mexico and Brazil, and they will not be tested!

Wow. I just hope those Chinese, Mexican and Brazilian organic farmers are keeping meticulous records of their use of old seed varieties in conjunction with lunar planting and harvesting calendars. Otherwise you might very well wonder what the heck you're paying for when you buy organic!

Up here in Canada there's clear insight into what's going on behind the scenes in the public/private organic industry. Perhaps in keeping with the wishes of Clinton and the ACU, a well-meaning bureaucrat by the name of Ken Bruce from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA is equivalent to the USDA) tried to gently introduce the idea of organic field testing to a group of organic broker/traders and processors. In the revealing words of Paddy Doherty, a self-styled Canadian organic lobbyist,

Ken Bruce really put his foot in it… he made the mistake of using the word 'testing', in conjunction with a description of the proposed Canadian Organic Regime. To the large group of keen organic traders and processors, the mention of testing was like waving a red flag in front of a US politician. The reaction was immediate, negative, and suspicious. Poor Ken took the brunt of it.

Yeah… imagine "Poor Ken" daring to suggest field testing. This is how the powers-that-be in the organic industry routinely exercise their "right" to beat down any notion on government's part that there will ever be any field testing to ensure compliance in this supposedly green industry. Feeling all warm and fuzzy inside yet?

By the way, "Poor Ken" was never heard from again. Miles McEvoy, please take note.

Never mind that random, surprise testing is an important part of how government regulates the conventional food industry, and never mind that field testing is what consumers and the majority of honest organic farmers want. Testing crops and livestock was lobbied right out of existence on both sides of the world's longest unprotected border, thus opening the way for cheap, foreign "organic" imports. Now everyone's happy, except of course for organic farmers (the ones who grow the food) and organic consumers (the ones who eat it and pay all the bills). But who the hell cares about farmers and consumers when you've got a planet to save, right? Oh yeah… and those stupid crop scientists; who the hell cares about them?

Well, I care about them, so I started to do some digging. I had the "pleasure" (and I use the term loosely) of speaking with Mr. Bruce's boss, the former president of the CFIA, a lawyer by the name of Ronald Doering who launched organic regulations in Canada. I asked him, "Would it be fair to say that the non-farming element in the organic sector succeeded in watering down the Canadian organic standard to the point where it's essentially useless?" His answer was remarkably candid. He said, and I quote, "Who the hell cares if Canadian organic standards are useless? I always warned there would be problems like that when I was still at the CFIA, but the industry kept begging us to regulate them so we finally did!"

There, now you're probably feeling all warm and fuzzy.

Anyone can see that organic standards will remain as useless unless every operation is tested at least once a year. Cost is always cited as an objection, but a test for over 200 commonly-used toxic herbicides is only $150. Farmers pay on average ten-times that just to have their paperwork looked over, paperwork which you now know focuses on how old their seed variety is and whether or not they're stupid enough to try farming by the moon.

If you believe in magic and have complete faith in human nature, then go right ahead and buy certified organic to your heart's content. But if you're like me and you expect measurable results, then save your money. Always support your local farmers, organic or otherwise, and never, ever, waste your hard-earned money buying organic in a store.

I only wish it were otherwise. ESR

Mischa Popoff is an IOIA Advanced Organic Inspector and is the author of "Is it Organic?," the inside story of who destroyed the organic industry, turned it into a socialist movement and made millions in the process. It can be previewed at www.isitorganic.ca.

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