Robert Dixon (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Tue, 7 Oct 1997 09:13:29 -0500
So many issues to discuss, the cost of certification, is the system
too bureaucratic, should farmers have to pay for it all, does certification
serve any purpose, what is a small farm and should they be excluded from
the need for certification.
Sal looks at certification as a useless cost since he gets no
benefits from it, he calls it an unfair tax that penalizes him for trying
to farm in a way that does not hurt the environment. I see the cost of
certification as insurance. It tries to ensure that people do not make
false claims, that a system based on trust is safeguarded and that everyone
can back up their claims in a way that would stand up in court.
I spend a lot of money buying certified organic food and I do not
trust claims of natural or made without chemicals or hormone free etc. etc.
This is not because farmers are trying to cheat the system but rather after
twenty years working in agriculture and five years as an organic inspector,
I see that people mean different things when they say certain words.
Certification helps clear up what exactly is meant by the word organic.
Costs to small farmers are an issue that certifiers and inspectors
are sensitive about. Most inspectors work at other jobs and so there is
some flexibility when negotiating a price with a particular grower. Perhaps
retailers and processors would give up some of their profits or a check off
could be set up where a few cents of consumers money could go towards the
certification process. Even a tiny fraction of the billions spent by
consumers in the USA would help with certification costs.
If you exclude organic famers with $50,000. in sales that would take
out most organic growers in the USA. According to the 1993 survey of
organic producers done by the Organic Farming Research Foundation, the
median gross farm income from sales of organic food was between $15, 000
and $30,000. Perhaps things have changed in the last 5 years but most
organic farms are small, family run operations that still need off farm
income ( does someone have more recent facts? ).
Who likes to fill out forms?!!! Sometimes it seems that is all we
inspectors do. How many farms do we go to where the forms are done
according to the letter of the regulations? Not very many. It takes time to
go through them, verify an audit trail etc. etc. Sal may feel this is a
waste of time but doing that is part of safeguarding the system. Like
insurance you do not think about it untill it is needed. If the paperwork
will not stand up in court then what good is it? Each inspection could hurt
the integrity of the whole system if not done correctly. It does not matter
untill your status is called into question and then the paperwork is the
only thing that matters.
Certification, like democracry, is a frustrating and time consuming process
but it is the best system we have and it will only get better as we work to
simplify it. Consumers need to be better educated, paperwork needs to be
more focused, records need to be summarized better using computers and we
have to get a better handle on things like residue and soil quality tests.
The profitable end of the organic industry will be pushing it's agenda so
farmers and consumers and certifiers and organic inspectors have to be
prepared to do the same.
Who can really argue with Sal's points? Certification can seem like
so much useless extra cost. Why not reduce the need for annual inspections
for growers that are not changing their operations, have been certified for
years, have not had any problems and are not in a high risk area eg.
surrounded by growers who use lots of chemicals. These people would still
need to send in the paperwork and keep all the records but they could go a
year without an on farm inspection. That would help reduce costs and still
safequard the integrity of the system. This could only apply to growers
under $50,000. in gross farm sales.
The real missing link in all these discussions is consumers. They
are the ones that the certification system is designed to satisfy. They are
the ones putting billions of dollars down on the counter for certified
organic food and they are the ones whose number is growing the fastest and
therefore have the most political power. Better informed consumers means
more help in the on going task of creating a certification system that
meets growers, certifers and consumers needs. Let us not forget the export
market of Europe! Those consumers can be even more particular then we are
in North America and that is a huge market that the USA sells into.
Sal, with his honesty and passion, has raised the whole discussion
of organic certification to another level. The comments have been very
interesting but will any real solutions come out of this. How do the views
expressed here get translated into action at the right level?
I will still buy only certified organic food, ask questions at the
supermarket about where my food comes from and each inspection will be done
as if the integrity of the whole certification process depended on it. Oh,
by the way, the use of sewage sludge is generally prohibited.
To Unsubscribe: Email email@example.com with "unsubscribe sanet-mg".
To Subscribe to Digest: Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the command