Here is the link to OTA’s response to the Jan. 3-4 two-part series. OTA’s response appeared Jan. 17: http://articles.lancasteronline.com/local/4/247561
Don’t regard ‘organic’ as a mere marketing tool
Mary Beth Schweigert’s two-part series on organic foods (Jan. 3-4, 2010) includes many accurate statements about organic agriculture and production. However, mixed in are statements that make these articles paint an inaccurate picture for your readers.
Because the National Organic Program (NOP) is housed in USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), some believe the organic label is just a marketing tool. It is more than that. AMS is part of the Marketing and Regulatory Programs (MRP) mission area. MRP agencies facilitate the domestic and international marketing of U.S. agricultural products and ensure the health and care of animals and plants. MRP agencies are active participants in setting national and international standards. NOP develops, implements, and administers national production, handling, and labeling standards for organic agricultural products, and also accredits the certifying agents (foreign and domestic) who inspect organic production and handling operations to certify that they meet USDA standards.
Moreover, a French researcher’s recent review of scientific findings concerning organic products confirmed the high nutritional quality and safety of food produced using organic practices. These include more dry matter, minerals and antioxidant micronutrients than in their non-organic counterparts. In addition, organic foods have significantly lower amounts of nitrates and residues of toxic chemical pesticides, fungicides and herbicides than do non-organic foods.
Yes, one of the top reasons cited by consumers for purchasing organic is that the products are “healthier for me and my family,” but it is important to examine what consumers mean by this. Consumers say they choose organic products due to their concerns about possible effects of toxic and synthetic pesticides, synthetic growth hormones and antibiotics used in non-organic agriculture. They also want to avoid highly processed food produced without any restrictions on additives.
One of the early statements in Schweigert’s first article is that the only certain thing about organic foods is that they cost more. In reality, it is possible to buy organic foods in season in certain markets at comparable prices to non-organic products. The point ignored is the true cost of the food we eat.
Surveys from every continent show that organic farms support many more species of birds, wild plants, insects and other wildlife than non-organic farms. Tests by several governments have shown that organic foods carry just a tiny fraction of the pesticide residues of their non-organic alternatives, while completely banning growth hormones, antibiotics, and many additives that are used in many conventional foods.
When you buy organic products, you pay the true cost of the food. When you buy non-organic products, there are hidden costs for which everyone pays indirectly. As Dr. Sandra Steingraber has written (http://www.organicitsworthit.org/make/economic-sense-organic-food), “Among the costs not incorporated into the bar codes that beep their way through the check-out lane: fertilizer-contaminated groundwater, insecticide-contaminated fish, herbicide-contaminated rain, dead honeybees, poisoned wildlife, deformed frogs, eroded soil, toxic algal blooms, ozone depletion, and antibiotic resistance. These are what economists call "externalities"—the costs of an activity that are borne by others. The bad thing about externalities is that they lead to market outcomes that are costly to society even though privately profitable.”
Steingraber writes that the externalities of U.S. conventional farming add up to more than $10 billion a year, without counting public health costs, such as the ability of pesticides to affect pregnancy.
“Preterm birth is a leading cause of disability, and life-long disabilities are expensive. Organophosphate exposure is linked to a number of neurological problems that are expensive to address. Infertility treatments are expensive. Surgical repair of birth defects is expensive. So are pregnancy losses, although, having endured two miscarriages myself, I wouldn't know where to begin to assign a monetary cost to them,” Steingraber concludes.
The Organic Trade Association (OTA) has never encouraged a pesticide-free claim on organic food. Residues of pesticides used by non-organic farms can stay in the soil for many years, or drift to contaminate the soil of those who did not use them. But organic farmers do not use the many toxic and persistent pesticides their non-organic counterparts use. Certified organic farmers complying with national organic standards must meet the strict regulations in place. Organic practices do allow certain natural pesticides but only under limited and strict conditions. The likelihood of any pesticide residues on organic foods is significantly lower than their conventional counterparts, and cannot exceed 5% of the Environmental Protection Agency’s tolerance levels.
Unlike some claims in the articles, the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances has not been weakened. In fact, it has been strengthened. Changes to Section 606 of the National List in June 2007 tightened the use of non-organic agricultural products allowed in the 5% of an organic product not required to be organically produced. Previously, any agricultural ingredients could be used in this fashion, thus potentially allowing hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of non-organic ingredients. USDA’s action in 2007 limited this to only minor non-organic agricultural ingredients that had undergone an extensive and transparent public review process and that were not commercially available as organic.
When a consumer purchases an organic product, he or she is supporting a system of agriculture using proven practices that are good for health of the soil, the health of the farm family, local water supplies, and other environmental resources. And, all organic operations, regardless of size, must meet these strict requirements.
For more information about organic agriculture, go to OTA’s new consumer web site, http://www.organicitsworthit.org/.
Organic Trade Association