There’s a Pest(icide) in my Plum
By: Kodiak Soled
Business is all about marketing to the consumer. Today’s consumer not only wants to know where their food comes from, but they’ll also pay the extra dollar for a healthy label.
But what do these labels really mean? Does buying an organic, local red delicious apple ensure that you’re getting a same-day-picked, pesticide-free, grown-from-composted-manure piece of fruit? You might be surprised to hear the answer.
Labeling: What is going on?
When it comes to labeling food for the consumer’s benefit, the U.S. is still in the dark ages. GMO sales are banned or significantly restricted in over 60 countries around the world, but are approved in the U.S. based on a study conducted by the same corporations that created and profit from them. “Natural” foods are allowed to contain GMO’s; “local” can mean up to several states away; and “organic” can contain biological pesticides, pheromones, and animal vaccines.
Big business runs the show folks.
Let’s take a peek under the veil and see what’s really going on here:
When you go to a local farmer’s market, you probably expect those veggies to come from your geographic food shed, perhaps a 100-mile radius. The allure of local food is about buying into and supporting sustainable farming practices, as well as making a small carbon footprint (direct-to-consumer marketing).
Local has several definitions. The 2008 Food, Conservation, and Energy Act defines local as:
- The total distance the product is transported is less than 400 miles from the origin of the product OR
- The state in which the product is produced
This means local beef in New York can come from several states away in Virginia, and local oranges in Eureka can come up from 800 miles down south in San Diego.
USDA Organic Labeling
Okay, that sounds official so that has to be legitimate, right? Yes, and no. There are actually three faces of organic: made with organic ingredients, organic, and 100% USDA Certified Organic.
- Made with organic ingredients means at least 70% organic ingredients are used and cannot wear the USDA Organic Seal.
- Organic contains at least 95% organic ingredients and items can wear the USDA Organic Seal.
- 100% USDA Certified Organic product means the real deal- 100% organic ingredients. No synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizer, GMOs, growth hormones, or antibiotics. It must also be from a farm that has been free of this list for over 3 years.
There are three main problems with this certification system:
- Biologically sourced pesticides and synthetic materials can be used on USDA organic foods
- The price for certification would put most small farmers out of business before they even started thus never bother to get certified
- Some farmers believe in stricter guidelines than the USDA and are insulted by farms that use synthetic materials and call themselves organic.
Moral of the story: Get to know your food sources.
Find the farmers that will talk to you about their practices and what they do to be environmentally conscious health advocates. A small peach farm from three states away could create a smaller environmental impact and have better farming practices than a USDA organic peach from Kings Soopers.
Know your farmer, know your food.