Industrial Organic Pressed For Transparency

The question about organic growing practices in industrial agriculture seems almost like an oxymoron: How can the industrial complex promote healthy growing practices and still turn a healthy profit?

It's true that organic food tends to fetch a higher retail price, which may compensate for some of the extra time and labor that goes into organic growing methods. But we have to remember that there are a number of other costs associated with the industrial complex that the local farmer simply doesn't have to concern himself with like major transportation, marketing and, of course, the cost of organic certification.

Recently, an article in the Seattle Times Food & Wine Section exposed "A California farm that provides eggs under the Organic Valley co-op label" for shady egg production under the cover of organic methodology. The article reinforces the mantra complaint of conscientious consumers: "While federal organic standards require outdoor access and direct sunlight to promote hen health and natural behavior, the standards don't specifically define the outdoors."

Another article on quotes Organic Valley as saying, "Our farmers are required to provide 1.75 square feet per bird indoors and five square feet per bird outdoors. An exception to this is made for our producer in California, where state veterinarians and the California Department of Agriculture strongly advocate that birds not have free-range outdoor access because of the risk of Avian Influenza transmission. Our California farmer-owner has screened houses with lots of natural light, and his outdoor access method is approved by his organic certifier, Oregon Tilth."

Because the USDA is the enforcer of organic standards in addition to bioagriculture and other industrial agriculture practices, it's fairly simple to see how things get all bungled up into a mixture of confusion and problems.

It has been well-documented in the small farm community that Certified Organic is the lowball organic standard. The costliness of becoming certified promotes a standard afforded only to medium and large farms which are accustomed to taking shortcuts for profitability; contrarily, many smaller farms naturally work in a methodology closer to permaculture because it is the most profitable for them: small farms can sell boutique vegetables at farmer's markets to help subsidize their organic practice.

None of this is to say that industrial organic is a bad thing; not everyone has access to farmer's markets or CSA shares, and even if it is a lowball standard, certified organic is, in fact, a standard. Without industrial organic, many people would only have access to severely unhealthy crops, so the organic program is a good one, it just has to be enforced a little more specifically to keep companies honest.

Photo credit: Kai Hendry