Some Small Holistic Farmers Oppose Organic Rules
At a recent tour of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Westchester County, New York, a guide told us that the fresh produce grown on the picturesque show farm isn't certified organic. "We go beyond the organic standards here, and have a more holistic approach to raising the best, freshest food possible," she explained. When asked about the organic program, she said, "We have some issues with it."
It is perhaps not surprising that some farmers would have problems with the USDA organic standards, even those who are committed to sustainable production. Farming is complicated, difficult work, and there is a lot of variability in terms of climate, geography and local issues. So some people believe USDA organic is too "one size fits all." Still, to its credit, the organic rules weren't developed overnight -- they were hashed out by a diverse array of stakeholders in a process that took roughly ten years. The goal was a program that works for producers as well as consumers, though not everyone is totally satisfied.
To some small farmers, the costs of getting certified organic are too high. Others complain that it takes too much bureaucratic red tape. "If I was to get certified organic I'd spend all my time doing paperwork and no time actually farming," one local farmer told me at a New York City farmers' market. Other critics argue that organic isn't inclusive enough in measuring food miles, seasonality or animal welfare, or they don't trust government agencies or certifiers.
Grace Gershuny if GAIA Services in Vermont criticizes the organic program as too focused on chasing fickle consumer attitudes, instead of working for farmers on the ground who are trying to do the right thing. She disparages it as a "marketing program," and argues, "Established players want to tighten their standards to limit competition by potential new entrants. It has nothing to do with protecting consumer interests, and works against consumers by maintaining high prices and limited supply for products that may not be demonstrably superior."
Joan Shaffer, a spokesperson for the U.S. Agriculture Department, confirmed to the New York Times that the organic system "is a marketing program that sets standards for what can be certified as organic. Neither the enabling legislation nor the regulations address food safety or nutrition."
So what's a consumer to think? Visit a co-op in Berkeley or Vermont and you might hear some "dark green" folk turning their studded noses up at USDA certified organic. The label might not please everyone, but it is one of the more rigorous consumer programs out there in any category. It certainly is no rubber stamp, either.
Page 1: When organic doesn't always make sense
Page 2: Learn the secret behind many of your favorite organic brands
Page 4: Discover the surprising ingredients in organic foods
Page 5: Get the truth about organic yields
Page 6: Is organic really healthier?
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