Filed under: Organic Agriculture
by Brian Clark Howard, Daily Green
Labeling may not seem like a particularly exciting topic, but it is extremely important to those with nut allergies, diabetics and those busy people everywhere who rely on labels to know what’s inside the foods they eat. Consider the heated controversy over whether genetically engineered foods should be explicitly labeled, or the ongoing fight over country-of-origin seals, and how that relates to recent scares over food imported from China.
When it comes to the much-touted word “organic,” there is much at stake. Not only is the sector the fastest growing in the food industry, but also advocates are positioning organics as a great hope in the battle to protect the environment from the ravages of industrial agriculture and even oil-fueled climate change. There are perhaps as many detailed definitions of organic as there are farmers, chefs and consumers. But here are some of the most important labels:
In 2000, after a 10-year development process, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rolled out its rules covering use of the word “organic” on foods. The USDA accredits independent certifiers, who then check the claims of producers. The system has three levels:
- “100% Organic” — Can only contain organic ingredients, meaning no antibiotics, hormones, genetic engineering, radiation or synthetic pesticides or fertilizers can be used. Can display the USDA organic logo and/or the specific certifying agent’s logo.
- “Organic” — Contains 95% organic ingredients, with the balance coming from ingredients on the approved National List. These products can also display the USDA organic logo and/or the certifier’s logo.
- “Made With Organic Ingredients” — Must be made with at least 70% organic ingredients, three of which must be listed on the package, and the balance must be on the National List. These products may display the certifier’s logo but not the USDA organic logo. Read more about the organic program at the Consumers Union’s Eco-labels.org.
As in North America, organic farming continues to grow in popularity on the other side of the pond, to the tune of around 30% a year. In June, the EU released new rules on organic labeling, designed to simplify the process. The place where the products were farmed has to be lis
ted, and no genetically modified ingredients are allowed. Food carrying the EU’s organic logo must be at least 95 percent organic, although other products can list organic ingredients. Learn more here.
JAS System (Japan)
The market for healthy and organic foods has been particularly robust in Japan, where a rigorous labeling and certification process for organics was launched in 2000 under the country’s JAS (Japanese Agricultural Standard) umbrella. Learn more here.
NutriClean – Free of Pesticide Residues Certification Program
The company Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) developed the NutriClean program to indicate that labeled products are tested for pesticide residues, and that the results fall within set limits. The NutriClean label does not necessarily mean that no pesticides were used in production, however.
IP (Integrated Production) Labels
More than 100 groups around the world administer labels for integrated pest management that adhere to standards set by the International Organization of Biological Control (IOBC). Integrated pest management is a method of farming and gardening with a decreased (or zero) input of man-made chemicals, and instead relies on physical and biological controls. Examples of IP labels in the U.S. include CORE Values (for Northeast IPM-grown Apples) and Partners With Nature in Massachusetts (for many products). Learn more here.
Filed under: Organic Agriculture
Article from Organic Consumers Association
Along with reporting on fertilizers, biotech, ethanol, corporate consolidation and the agrofuels vs food debate comes an increased science reporting of the real world of organic-ecological-diversified agriculture that actually feeds the world.
The biotech industry used to regard speed as one of the defining characteristics of genetic engineering. To prove the point, it rushed new products to market with little regard for the consequences. Speed, however, is a characteristic of neither good science nor sustain-able agriculture. Now the ‘slow’ reports of scientific findings on nutritious food and sustainable agriculture are beginning to surface. It will be interesting to see how the biotech bullies deal with these. The authors of a new study* claim that a switch to organic farming would not reduce the world’s food supply but could actually increase food security in developing countries. They claim their findings lay to rest the debate over whether organic farming could sustainably feed the world. The team of researchers has compiled research from 293 different comparisons into a single study to assess the overall efficiency of the two agricultural systems.
They found that in ‘developed’ countries organic systems produce, on average, 92% of the yield produced by conventional agriculture. In ‘developing’ countries, however, organic systems produce 80% more than conventional farms. Then, using data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the team estimated what would happen if farms world-wide were to switch to organic methods today.
The researchers found that under an organic-only regime, farms could produce between 2641 and 4381 calories per person per day compared to the current world equivalent of 2786 calories per person per day. Members of the team believe the calculations they carried out to arrive at the upper number are the most realistic. These took into account the higher yields that would be obtained in developing countries, and the details of which crops are grown where. Nutritionists recommend that people consume between 2100 and 2500 calories a day.
The researchers found that small farms tend to produce more per hectare of land. They also note that although organic production tends to require more labour, this labour is often spread out more evenly over the growing season, making it easier to manage. They also point out that once you incorporate the environmental costs, then organic agriculture is a much superior system.
In this era of climate change and unpredicted disasters (droughts, floods, heat waves, etc.) organic/ecological agriculture has another important virtue. Relying on locally-sourced and adapted species and varieties as well as labour, knowledge, and skills, it is much more resilient than a system which is dependent on manufactured and imported inputs.The issue of speed is also crucial. As George Monbiot has persuasively argued, air travel may be the single most intractable cause of carbon emissions. But fast boats, trains, and cars are also problematic. The fact is that when you take the whole system into account, speed is simply not efficient. Slower modes of transport would, of course, limit the perishable food and other products which are now shipped around the globe, and make us all more dependent on what we can produce ourselves. Not a bad idea.
* Organic agriculture and the global food supply: Catherine Badgley, Jeremy Moghtader, Eileen Quintero, Emily Zakem, M. Jahi Chappell, Katia Avilés-Vázquez, Andrea Samulon and Ivette Perfecto, Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, 2007, Cambridge University Press
Filed under: Organic Agriculture
Article found in Gristmill
Last week, The New York Times ran a feature by Marian Burros on New Seasons Markets, a grocery store chain in Portland that’s banking on consumer interest in local, sustainable food — as opposed to simply organic.
The chain recently completed an inventory of the origins of its stock and has labeled everything grown in Oregon, Washington, and Northern California “Homegrown.” They’ve already got six stores and three more on the way, but remain adamantly opposed to expanding beyond the Portland suburbs — a testament to their commitment to being grounded in the local food economy.
People concerned about health, taste, and the environment have long sought out organic products. Once a cutting-edge concept for gourmets and health-food junkies, organic is now mainstream, with many familiar major food brands launching organic product lines. I bought organic milk at a Seattle Safeway the other day that was packaged under Safeway’s own new “O” label. Organics are the fastest growing segment of the food industry, with sales increasing by some 20 percent per year.
But, as the NYT piece notes, organic alone is not the answer to the question of the fundamental role food plays in our local economy, environment, food security, community vitality, or even health and enjoyment. I don’t know where that organic milk I bought from Safeway came from. I like the idea of sticking with my delivery from Smith Brothers dairy each week. Even though it’s not organic, there’s no growth hormone used and I am supporting the last of the independent dairy farms in my state, Washington.We won’t be seeing New Seasons outside the Portland area any time soon — but other areas are making progress on the local food front.
In the Seattle area, for example, cutting-edge projects are exploring food as a driver in the local economy and as a focal point for public policies ranging from health and nutrition to urban planning and even transportation.
Sustainable Seattle is launching a first-of-its-kind research project looking at how dollars spent on locally produced food affect the local economy, as a counterpoint to the dollar spent on the average grocery item that has traveled 1500 miles to reach the consumer.
Washington State University’s King County Extension office is leading an effort to establish a food policy council for Seattle and King County that would bring together a broad spectrum of food system participants — from farmers to hunger activists to grocery executives to land use experts — to work jointly on solutions to current challenges like childhood obesity, disappearing farmland, and alarmingly high levels of hunger in our community. I have always believed in the power of coming to the table together to hash out issues, find common ground, and be reminded of one another’s humanity, but I have most often thought about it in the very personal context of family and friends. In these times of bitter division, can coming to the table in celebration of delicious local-grown bounty help remind us of our many shared values and experiences?