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Are all foods labeled "organic" organic?
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 Post subject: 923 To test or not to test "Organic?"
PostPosted: Thu Jun 06, 2013 6:43 am 
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File this under Michael Olson’s Third Law of the Food Chain: The farther we go from the source of our food, the less control we have over what’s in our food.

On average, the food we eat now travels well over a thousand miles from where it was grown. As a consequence of this distance, we are losing track of who is growing our food, and how they are growing it. One way to regain some control over the food we eat is to buy food that displays the “Certified Organic” label.
The organic food industry is expected to grow from $60 billion today to $105 billion in 2015 on our desire to buy food that is clean and wholesome.

Foods that have been certified “organic” were grown and processed without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, nor do they contain genetically-modified organisms or GMOs. At least, that is we want to believe, and what industry wants us to believe, but is it true?

Are all foods labeled “organic” organic? (Food Chain Radio & Forums #923)

(Tags: organic foods, pesticides, herbicides, organic food industry, organic label, food quality, National Organic Standard, certified organic)


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 Post subject: Re: 923 To test or not to test "Organic?"
PostPosted: Thu Jun 06, 2013 5:37 pm 
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This from Roy...

I was surprised to see you were inviting Mischa Popoff on your program to discuss organics without inviting a guest of contrasting view. It's well known Mr. Popoff is antagonistic towards organic agriculture, referring to the industry as a "socialism movement", and is a defender of biotech who denies climate change. A guest with such a one sided view will diminish the reliability and relevance of the information provided by the program. I think your topic on testing is a valid question, however it seems being based in close proximity to a large community of Organic Industry professionals, including the headquarters of CCOF and my colleague Bill Denevan; an organic grower and consultant for over 40 years who has personally witnessed every stage of the industry's growth, both based in Santa Cruz amongst many others in the area; you could have easily found someone to balance Mr Popoff's well known and admitted one sided view.
Thanks for seriously considering my concerns which I'm sure are shared by a wide segment of your audience.


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 Post subject: Re: 923 To test or not to test "Organic?"
PostPosted: Thu Jun 06, 2013 5:38 pm 
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Roy...

Invited four key players from the organic side so far, but no one seems willing to talk. Still working!

Michael Olson...


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 Post subject: Re: 923 To test or not to test "Organic?"
PostPosted: Thu Jun 06, 2013 5:50 pm 
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This from Mark Kastel...

“You’re reaching for a bag of apples at the grocery store and you notice a smaller bag at more than double the price labelled “Canada Organic.” Should you pay more for less in the interests of feeding your family purer, more nutritious food? …. put down that small bag and buy the regular apples. They’re not only cheaper and every bit as pure and nutritious, but there’s a better chance they’re Canadian.”

Hello all,
For a number of years this self-promoting, self-published author has tried to add credibility to his vitriol, targeting organic food and many leaders in the industry, by suggesting that he's dedicated to the organic movement and questioning government regulation, or lack thereof. We, in fact, share some of Mr. Popoff's concerns about the Canadian regulatory system. We don't however share his recommendations that people should eat conventional produce because it is "cheaper and every bit is pure and nutritious."
He is now associated with some ultra-conservative think tanks and questions global warming, while attacking hybrid automobiles, in addition to his anti-organic activism.
I thought it would be valuable to distribute his latest diatribe because now there can never be any doubt that he is a conventional Wolf cloaking himself in an organic [inspector] sheep's outfit.
Mark A. Kastel
Senior Farm Policy Analyst
The Cornucopia Institute


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 Post subject: Re: 923 To test or not to test "Organic?"
PostPosted: Thu Jun 06, 2013 5:52 pm 
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This also from Mark Kastel...

Sorry for the need of an additional post. I've heard from a few folks who weren't familiar with Mischa Popoff and were curious why Cornucopia, an organic industry watchdog, would seem to differ with his perspective challenging the Canadian government to do a better job overseeing organics. I apologize. I should've included this information in my original message.

Popoff has built the largest, to my knowledge, e-mail distribution database in organics. His frequent e-mails have bordered on harassment for many. And I just, inaccurately, assumed that everyone knew his background.

Cornucopia really supports organics and we want the regulatory systems, in the US and Canada, to have real teeth and operate as designed to protect consumers and ethical participants in this industry. The statement he made yesterday makes it obvious that that is not the case with him. Even with all of our blemishes organics still is the best option and I would never start eating conventional apples (we know how they are produced).

Here's a background story on Popoff. He has spent years trying to degrade the reputation of the organic label by suggesting we should substitute comprehensive, across-the-board testing for certification (at one time he had an economic interest in this approach). This is a red herring because it would be economically unfeasible. Just like the IRS does not audit every single tax return, but spot audits are effective (to scare the hell out of all of us, hopefully including the bad-actors).

I think it will become self-explanatory why we are concerned with his activities: http://www.cornucopia.org/2011/06/who-is-mischa-popoff/


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 Post subject: Re: 923 To test or not to test "Organic?"
PostPosted: Thu Jun 06, 2013 6:12 pm 
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This from Sue...

Michael this is why you need to use your pendulum when you shop....can we trust any of those labels? I have found you can't be sure....Blessings Sue


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 Post subject: Re: 923 To test or not to test "Organic?"
PostPosted: Thu Jun 06, 2013 6:13 pm 
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This from Frances...

Do you know that this guy is a Dennis Avery wanna be who pretends that he supports organic farming but is really trying to undermine it?


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 Post subject: Re: 923 To test or not to test "Organic?"
PostPosted: Thu Jun 06, 2013 6:17 pm 
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This from Larry, a real organic farmer....

Hi Michael,
My two cents is we need to spot test 20% of all organic producers product each year. Currently USDA and organic industry decided upon 5%. That’s better than nothing and infinitely more than is tested of conventional product.

One thing to keep in mind. Trace levels of pesticides will be found of persistent chemicals that were used in the past. There may also be traces of chemicals applied on farms miles away as we experienced in 2008 in Santa Cruz County and pressured local applicators to stop spraying within 5miles of our locations. We’ve tested soils on all are farms and found in some places detectable levels of DDE and DDT. As a result, we’re working on a plan to clean the soil and not plant crops for organic sales that take up these chemicals if we plant this ground at all. The dilemma is almost all farm fields had pesticides applied to them in the past. Our positive results are on farms that we’ve managed organically over 10 years.

We’re trying our best to make sure what we grow and market has no detectable residues from contaminants but it is not easy given years of past applications of persistent chemicals and continued applications of pesticides that volatilize and move as a gas in the air. Still, if you want to decrease the amount of chemicals you are exposed to, a good place to start is eat only organically grown food. It is inspected annually, thought not a perfect system, it is better than food grown with toxic chemicals.

Soooo, my point about annual testing of 20% of organic producers is to catch the egregious operators, the bad apple in the crate. There will always be one. But still it’s a lot less toxic chemicals being used than on the conventional farms.


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 Post subject: Re: 923 To test or not to test "Organic?"
PostPosted: Fri Jun 07, 2013 6:24 pm 
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This from Dag...

Hi Michael,

I don’t think we’ve met, but I follow your activities through your email notices etc.

The last notice said that you will be interviewing Mischa Popoff on Saturday. I became quite concerned that you may not know some of the history of Mr. Popoff and I think your reputation could be affected if you didn’t. I’m not saying you shouldn’t interview him, but I think it would be unfortunate if you were unaware of the issues and you got pulled into supporting what I can only describe as his shenanigans.

Mr. Popoff has alienated the organic community so severely that he is banned from list serves and officially banned from being allowed to claim he is an accredited advanced organic inspector with IOIA (International Organic Inspectors Association). This has not stopped him from making that claim for years on written material. The fact is that he was an organic farm inspector for a short period, and then for various reasons he was unable to gain any contracts for further inspection work. He will claim that he was discriminated against, or that he pointed out fraud and therefore he was no longer given inspector work. I’ve been an organic inspector for 15 years, and I know that there are many qualities that are valued and that motivates a certifier to call on inspectors repeatedly for work, not the least of which is a friendly and professional attitude.

Mr. Popoff will claim occasionally that he is a supporter of organic agriculture and food, but his actions and articles belie this repeatedly. He has a very strong conflict of interest by making any claims against organic, as he is directly promoting the services of his testing company. He is not forthright, and he will likely deny that he has such a company, or claim that it is not for profit or something.

His whole notion of saying that organic is meaningless because organic standards do not require testing for pesticide residues, borders on the ridiculous, and shows an alarming lack of understanding of what organic is, based on the organic standards that have been in place for over a decade now. If he had not been an organic inspector, this could maybe be understandable, but it undermines all credibility for him. He has been advocating for using residue testing as a replacement to the current system of verifying organic farmers through annual on-site visits, reviewing fields, equipment and storage units, and reviewing paperwork like receipts for both organic and non organic activities, organic plans, and affidavits from seed suppliers etc. Here are just a few examples where he misses the point of organic:

· Organic is a positive system of growing food without relying on chemical petroleum crutches such as synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides etc., yet without these costly and damaging “tools”, organic manages to grow comparable yields, and has been proven to be more resilient and yielding even better than conventional farms in drought years.

· Organic growing must include the methods that replaces the need for these chemical aids. Such practices include crop rotation, green manures, soil microbiology management, biodiversity and many many other practices. How will testing for the presence or absence of pesticide residues prove that these other practices are in place?

· Testing for pesticide residue as a method of determining if a product is organic is completely baseless, as if a product is completely free of residues, this does not make it organic. And if residues are found, this also does not make a product non-organic. For instance right now Europeans are finding residues of Glyphosate in shipments of organic products from North America. This is because of the great improvement in testing capacity today. Levels of contamination that are now background levels can easily be detected, and of course if water, air and soil is contaminated because of conventional agriculture, then even organic food production cannot escape these background levels. Mr. Popoff says one simple test can tell if it’s organic, but he fails to address who determines the levels used as thresholds? The USDA/NOP has currently amped up its compliance testing program where it will be used to determine if there are problems in organic agriculture with residues. The program is elaborate and involved and considers multiple factors such as residue levels, exposure factors, in field versus product testing and many other issues. Mr. Popoff’s proposal considers nothing, and only would require one annual test (what if you grow 50 different crops?). The complexity of agriculture seems to have escaped the notice of Mr. Popoff.

As a final word of caution, in my experience Mr. Popoff is not interested in an open dialog, and those that have questioned him, and not agreeing with his world view on organic have been maligned by him in print. I myself have been mentioned by name in his book (and in articles) in derogatory terms, as have many distinguished and respected organic leaders, such as the former head of the Canadian Organic Office under the CFIA, and the head of the Canadian Organic Trade Association, Matthew Holmes. If you do not support Mr. Popoff, he appears to come after you in public.

My stance has been to ignore him, but in this case I felt it important to warn you of the potential challenges it can be to deal with him. I’m attaching only a few of the clippings of the more outrageous news items on Mr. Popoff for your interest.


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 Post subject: Re: 923 To test or not to test "Organic?"
PostPosted: Sat Jun 08, 2013 5:02 am 
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This from Mark...


Michael,

A number of people have shared their correspondence with you.

I was quoted in the New York Times this week and a couple weeks ago testified before Congress. Obviously others think that The Cornucopia Institute has a creditable POV. With more organic farmers as members, then any other organization, we, as governmental and corporate watchdogs, are a counter to some of the exploitive industry practices and positions.

I'm wondering why you didn't invite me on to provide balance (I would prefer you not having Mr. Popoff on your show because, as you know, I do not believe he is a legitimate voice). I assume there's a reason why you have said no one will go toe to toe with Popoff but you did not invite me to do so.

Here's the problem with his thesis:

1. Testing all organic food is 100% impossible/improbable and economically unfeasible. There are many classes of just the most common agrichemicals. It would be extravagantly expensive to test each of these for every farm. If you were going to depend exclusively on testing it would have to be comprehensive to be effective. This will not work.

2. Popoff's suggestion that we could do away with inspections and instead substitute testing is unworkable for another reason. Who would do the sampling? You could not have the farmers or processors sample commodities. There would be no integrity in the process. If you had an independent party doing the testing it would be just as expensive as doing the inspections right now (plus the extravagant expense of the testing itself). You might as well say we need to add testing to the current inspection protocols for 100% of operations.

3. There are a myriad of standards that cannot be verified through testing. Many of these have to do with livestock management but also crop rotations, the use of restricted materials in organics that would not show up in testing, the protection of the environment, etc. Relying on testing alone would not work in verifying full compliance with the organic standards.

4. The current USDA proposal (long overdue) to test up to 5% of operations randomly (with some guidance based on potential risks— an aggressive penalties if found in "willful violation") should be quite effective coupled with the current inspection program. The IRS scares the hell out of all of us by auditing about 1% of tax returns.

Popoff's ideologically-based, self-serving campaign (and promotion of his self-published book on the subject) is a red herring. It's a way to denigrate and discredit the organic farming movement. He is now associated with at least one US think tank, the Heartland Institute, that has a history of attacking organics. Again, it is highly irresponsible to give this gentleman a platform! With all your fine work on the subject it is incomprehensible that you would aid and abet his attack on organics.

Again, I am very disappointed that you would have Popoff on your show and suggest that it was impossible to provide balance. I wonder who else might be qualified to provide that balance, other than me, who I could contact and confirm that they were not approached either. Some of the other folks you have corresponded with in the last day or so would've been qualified as well. But I also understand you suggested they "call in."

Suggesting to a number of people, including me, that we could call in, instead of inviting someone to provide true balance, seems to illustrate that you were not very receptive to having someone else on your show as a guest.

My best suggestion at this point is to cancel the show and find another guest or to conduct an open line. If you have truly been contacted by dozens of members of the organic community, expressing their concern, I'm sure that's the tip of the iceberg. I'm afraid that airing this program, or airing it without balance, will hurt the credibility of your show which, I think, has been universally respected up until this point.

Mark

Mark A. Kastel
The Cornucopia Institute


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