Thursday, October 20, 2005

Organic Foods Under Attack

Now, I'm not a granola-crunching, macrobiotic-ingesting vegan, not by any stretch, but I do occasionally have an organic meal or two during the week.

No particular reason except that I'm cautious about my health, and as I grow older (47 and counting, and thank god, cuz the alternative means I'd be organic food for some worm or fish), I think more and more about eating healthier and living longer.

Well, Katrina alerted me to this little-noticed bit of underhandedness:

The Organic Trade Association is aggressively lobbying Congress to include an amendment in the Agriculture Appropriations Bill, which would overturn Harvey vs. Johanns, a recent court decision that bars the use of synthetic ingredients in the non-organic portion of food labeled "organic." These are food products that must be made with at least 95% organic material but can have 5% non-organic ingredients.

"We are not disputing that the organic law already allows and should allow for synthetics to be used in products labeled as 'made with organic' (products made with at least 70% organic ingredients) but the industry wants the bonus of being able to carry the coveted "organic" label without shouldering the burden of meeting consumer expectations," says Dr. Urvashi Rangan, Senior Scientist and Policy Analyst at Consumers Union.

"When Consumers Union conducted a nationwide survey in March 2005 of 1,200 US adults online, we found that 85% of respondents do not expect food labeled as "organic" to contain artificial (or synthetic) ingredients," adds Rangan.

"As we approach the third year anniversary of the National Organic Program, it's clear that consumers have grown even more attached to the value of the organic label. An overwhelming number of consumers have registered their opposition to the current attempts to weaken the organic standards. The reaction is nearly as strong as the record number (275,000) of public comments received during the development of the National Organic Program," said Ronnie Cummins, President of the Organic Consumers Association.

Why does this concern me? I mean, 70%, right, still pretty organic.

Well, Consumers Union (the good people who publish Consumer Reports) has a long history of being on top of issues related to consumers and their wealth and health, and what they're saying makes sense:

Why is it necessary for the standards to be lowered? Why can't manufacturers simply improve the content of the non-organic line to either conform to current statndards or, failing that, simply make their non-organic food healthier?

The answer seems exceedingly clear: money. After all, organic products at market fetch a far higher price AND PROFIT MARGIN than mass-produced chemically altered food. Why wouldn't Kraft or Birdseye or any number of food producers want to make more money without spending on the upgrade to conform to current standards?

Here's a list of Congresscritters and Senatoriums who are involved in drafting the legislation to establish organic standards. I urge you to take a few moments and write two, one Representative, one Senator, and let them know how you feel.