What USDA Organic Really Means

The organic movement has grown to an almost $20 billion industry in the United States, due in no small part to the federal regulation label “USDA Organic” and its appearance on thousands of products nationwide.  As the desire to eat healthier and protect the Earth grows, so does the willingness of consumers to fork over up to 50% more for some foods simply because they carry the organic label.  From a marketing perspective, who wouldn’t want their food to bear this stamp? 

So how does a company go about getting certified?  It involves paying hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars to certifiers from the Department of Agriculture who then rely on many different sets of criteria to determine whether or not the product can bear the label USDA Organic.  It seems that when the system works, it works and the foods that are certified organic are actually organic.  Recently, however when a plant owned by Peanut Corporation of America was responsible for the samonella outbreak caused by contaminated peanuts and it was found to still have its USDA Organic certification despite the fact that it no longer had  a state health certificate, the system came into question.

A private certifier took nearly seven months to recommend that the U.S.D.A. revoke the organic certification of the peanut company’s Georgia plant, and then did so only after the company was in the thick of a massive food recall. So far, nearly 3,000 products have been recalled, including popular organic items from companies like Clif Bar and Cascadian Farm. Nine people have died and almost 700 have become ill.

Consumers equate organic with safe and unfortunately, this is not always the case.  More and more, Americans are seeking out foods that are grown locally, meats that come from humanely raised animals and are harvested by workers who are paid a fair wage.  The problem is, organic doesn’t mean any of that.  So while the label maybe be a step to ensuring that the foods we pick from our grocer’s shelves are a less harmful choice, it certainly doesn’t end there.

Emily Wyckoff, who lives in Buffalo, buys local food and cooks from scratch as much as possible. Although she still buys organic milk and organic peanut butter for her three children, the organic label means less to her these days – especially when it comes to processed food in packages like crackers and cookies.

“I want to care, but you have to draw the line,” she said.

Recently, a sign near the Peter Pan and Skippy at her local grocery store declared that those brands were safe from peanut contamination. There was no similar sign near her regular organic brand.

“I bought the national brand,” she said. “Isn’t that funny?”

via The New York Times

Posted by: Ashley / Follow me on Twitter


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