The New York Times published two articles online concerning some of the problems with the USDA’s Organic certification labeling program. This department, like many other environmental and public health oriented government offices, is seriously flawed and under-funded, leaving consumers unsure whether to trust the organic certification or not. Recently however, the department is attempting to improve their credibility.
The first article, published in 2009, titled “It’s Organic, but Does That Mean It’s Safer?” focuses on the certification requirements and prevalence of regulation non-compliance. The organic agriculture business has grown considerably since 2001, with profits amounting to over $20 billion. The companies that certify organic farmers and food producers have a financial incentive to keep their clients certified, which results in lack of accountability in many instances. This is manifested in slow responses to regulation violations, inadequate facility inspections, and companies continuing to use a revoked organic seal. The organic certification focuses mostly on controlling pesticide use and animal feed, and often times lacks addressing concerns of food safety. The most important consequence of this broken system is the consumer – people rely on this label to assure them food is safe, but how can they be confident when there are so many flaws?
A follow-up article in 2010, “USDA’s Organic Enforcers Let Offenders Slide, Audit Says,” focuses on the problems behind enforcement and the future improvements of the organic label certification. The National Organic Program has many flaws in its certification system, including lack of standard inspection processes, enforcement and regular inspection of facilities. Under the Obama Administration, this office within the USDA will be more of a priority than in the past. The administration of the National Organic Program will expand, and their budget increased to $10.1 million. In an effort to improve reliability, they have begun cracking down on violators. Basilio Coronado, a Texas businessman who falsely advertised his food as organic, was fined $524,000 and sentenced to two years in jail.
So where are we now and what can YOU do?
The organics program has potential, and with increased funding and assurance of non-compliance crackdowns, hopefully we will see some changes.
As consumers, it is partially our responsibility to show government officials and companies how we feel and what we want. Check out the official website of the National Organic Program for more information on the program and how to file petitions and complaints.
The Organic Consumers Association is a grassroots non-profit organization involved in corporate responsibility, organic agriculture, public health, human rights, and sustainability. Getting involved in and donating to organizations such as the OCA is a good way to show your support for a cause. Contacting your political representatives is another possible means of expressing your concern; this shows representatives the interests they are meant to support and that citizens are concerned with certain political issues.
The situation facing organic agriculture also extends to other areas of life such as organic personal care products and household products, which I will be exploring later.