3 Major Issues Facing Organic Food in the U.S.

Taken from menshealth.com

Organic News

State of the Organic Union

By: Maria Rodale

As a third-generation insider and granddaughter of the original organic iconoclast, I’ve seen the evolution of the organic food industry happen in real time. Slow-motion real time. (My grandfather started Organic Gardeningmagazine in 1942–although truthfully, I wasn’t born until 1962.) On October 13, 2010, the current leaders of the organic movement in America convened at the Fourth Annual Organic Summit in Boston. Topics ranged from the challenges of procuring organic ingredients, to overall trends and perceptions of consumers, to strategies for defending against genetically modified organisms (GMOs), to ways of overcoming the seemingly hardwired American preference for everything cheap. 

But three major issues became abundantly clear as the day wore on in that windowless, generic hotel ballroom–three major issues that could affect every single person on this planet for better or for worse.

1. Americans are very confused about what organic is and is not, and why organic matters. The majority of Americans think foods with the word “natural” on them are better and safer than “organic.” And yet there are no governmental safety standards for using the word “natural.” Natural, in fact, means nothing. But it’s a happy word, so food companies slap it on anything they can to make their products sell better.

The proliferation of other labels–“beyond organic,” “locally grown,” “humanely raised,” “free range,” and “sustainable” –adds to the confusion. And when people are confused (and frankly, many times even when they are not confused), they revert to their primary emotional driver of decisions, which is most often price. So they choose the cheapest food rather than the safest for the planet. That confusion plays right into the hands of the chemical-food industry.

2. The organic industry must focus on clearing up that confusion and communicating why organic food is so important and the safest food you can buy. We in the organic industry have spent most of our time and energy trying to prove that organic is more nutritious–when instead, as Kanthe Shelke from Corvus Blue (a nutritionaltechnology think tank) told us, we should be focusing on “what organic does not have.” Organic foods do not have neurotoxin pesticides, endocrine disruptors, herbicides, and other chemicals, which some doctors and scientists believe might play a role in everything from diabetes and obesity to infertility, autism, and cancer–especially childhood leukemia.

The medical studies that support these seemingly inflammatory hypotheses do exist, and they are not getting picked up by the media. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine has even issued a call for a moratorium on GMO foods because it has seen evidence of liver, kidney, and digestive failure as well as infertility and accelerated aging (hello, Hollywood, are you listening?). But it’s almost too late already, since over 75 percent of all processed (non organic) foods in America already include GMOs. The tragedy of this statistic is that the pollen from these plants has been unleashed into our environment and can’t ever be reined back in.

For any environmentalist to not be a raving organic supporter is outrageous. The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, caused by agricultural runoff all the way down the Mississippi, existed even before the BP oil gusher–and this year it is the largest it has ever been. A giant dead zone is what the whole world is headed for if we don’t stand up and do a better job of educating the American public. Colony collapses affecting our bees, frog mutations and amphibian declines, jaw deformities in the wildlife of our national parks (which yes, use chemicals like crazy), and the melting polar caps can all be attributed to agricultural chemicals.

Finally, here’s what organic does not do: destroy the soil, which destroys the carbon-capturing capability of our planet, which destroys our atmosphere and causes global warming. Numerous studies have shown that chemical agriculture destroys soil structure, leading quickly to desertification and even more quickly to way too much carbon dioxide leaching into the atmosphere. Yes, it’s complicated. But we can’t keep living on this planet if we don’t start understanding this and paying attention to it soon.

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