Is it ORGANIC?
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Is it Organic?
It’s hardly a stretch to assume the public is extremely concerned with things like toxic residues and un-composted fecal matter in their food, especially if they’re paying hefty premiums for organic food. But, for some reason, corporations seem to make better targets for organic activists.
A relatively new organic lobby group called the Cornucopia Institute bills itself as the promoter of “Economic Justice for Family Scale Farming.” It’s headed by Mark Kastel, a guy who used to work for multi-million dollar “agribusiness giants” before making the “paradigm shift to sustainable farming.” It wasn’t a huge shift mind you because he now works for a multi-million dollar organo-activist company called Organic Valley Family of Farms Brand, referred to as Organic Valley for short. Confused? Well, you see, it’s perfectly simple really; Organic Valley isn’t an evil agribusiness giant because it has the words “organic” and “family” in its name. That means it’s friendly and sustainable, not evil and profit-driven. Okay?
Seriously though, Kastel rails against large corporations doing business in the organic sector for no other reason except that they’re large. And he pretends to no longer be on Organic Valley’s payroll even though they’re the single largest contributor to his Cornucopia Institute. Never hurts to have a rich benefactor nowadays, does it? He also fails to explain that the CEO of Organic Valley, a groovy millionaire by the name of George Siemon, “was instrumental in creating the USDA rules, and is working to see that they remain intact.” That’s right Siemon is one of the many people I expose in my book who has a vested interest in the multi-billion-dollar organic industry, who literally wrote his own federal code, and who now assumes control of that code while big brother watches over pretending to look out for the little people.
Such conflict of interest would never be tolerated in the conventional food sector. But, shameless to a fault, Kastel recently came out swinging against Golden Temple granola and Peace Cereal. Why? Because they used to be organic and now they’re not. Both processors removed the word “Organic” from their labels and sent letters to all their wholesale and retail customers informing them they were no longer organic, but Kastel wants more. He wants them to do an advertising campaign to inform consumers they’re no longer organic. Is he serious? Yup, he is.
There are serious problems in the organic industry. Most notably, the fact that organic crops and livestock are not tested. This has led to a situation where over 80 percent of the certified organic food sold is imported from places like China, Indonesia and Mexico, all based on paperwork and the payment of hefty fees. But Kastel doesn’t care. Who knows? Maybe his boss likes the current laxity of the organic certification system.
Under Siemon’s watchful eye, Kastel has been obsessed with one certifying company in particular, Quality Assurance International (QAI), which is a good certifier working consistently within federal standards. I should know; I worked for QAI back when I was an IOIA Organic Farm and Process Inspector. But Siemon and Kastel think QAI is “too corporate.” Cornucopia has never shown where QAI has done anything illegal or even untoward. QAI’s only crime according to Siemon and Kastel is that they are successful and their clients are large.
Siemon and Kastel also used Cornucopia to attack President Barack Obama’s pick of Iowa Democratic Governor Tom Vilsack for Secretary of Agriculture. Siemon and Kastel didn’t like the fact that Vilsack had supported genetic engineering and that he had a “close relationship” with agribusiness corporations. Sounds just like any Secretary of Agriculture you care to mention from the last 50 years (and any Minister of Agriculture in Canada). It also sounds a lot like Bill Clinton and Al Gore who both have the exact same views as Vilsack on the need for advanced science in agriculture. But Siemon and Kastel won’t dare go after Clinton or Gore; so, instead, Kastel decided to remind Obama of his promise for “change,” citing the need to “Clean up Bush’s Organic Mess.” This in spite of the fact that the final rules for the USDA’s NOP which Siemon and Kastel enthusiastically support were passed during George W. Bush’s administration after being written by Clinton’s administration. (This is all explained in Chapter 5 of my book.)
I tried communicating with Kastel about the need to reduce bureaucracy in the organic industry and introduce field testing. His position is that he and his boss defend “the hoops organic farmers have had to jump through,” and he stresses that testing cannot substitute for record-keeping and form-filling because, in his mind, “Most alarm systems are never tested by burglars.” Can someone tell me just what the hell that's supposed to mean? Organic farmers want field testing, less paperwork and a reduction in the fees they’re forced to pay year after year. Why not do something to help them?
Big Organic players like Siemon are directing minions like Kastel all across the land to lobby Obama for “change” in the food industry, a change which, let’s face it, they hope will continue to be completely unscientific. Perhaps Siemon and Kastel never did well in science and math when they were in school and they honestly just don’t understand how things like food safety and quality control work. Or… it could be Siemon and Kastel actually did very well in science and math and just don’t want food safety and quality control to work, at least not in their racket… I mean sector. So how ‘bout it guys? Can we see your college transcripts?
There is currently little proof of actual cleanliness, nutrition and fair play in the global organic industry. It’s fast approaching a complete free-for all, and domestic organic farmers suffer as a result. Professional organic lobbyists like Kastel either honestly don’t get that, or they don’t want to. And that’s a total shame.
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Mischa Popoff, B.A. (Hons.) U. of S. and USDA-contract IOIA Organic Inspector
Policy Advisor for The Heartland Institute
Research Associate for The Frontier Centre for Public Policy
Is it Organic?