It is possible that some non-USDA certified regional or local organic
program will have more meaning and credibility to me as a consumer.
USDA certified will be useful to me when I must buy from some distant
and large organic producer that it is impossible for me personally to
know much about. But why force a local or regional supplier to become
USDA certified or to lose their right to claim their food is produced
organically? The "one label fits all approach" plays to an uneducated
public, when the public needs to be more educated about their food and
how it is produced. If the public cannot become better educated, then
we have little hope for exerting continual pressure in the direction of
more sustainable food production.
I am trying to be thoughtful and respectful. So I rather resent the
broad smear that those of us who are challenging the OFPA as it stands
are narrow, shrill or self-interested. Thank you, though for rejoining
the discussion. In general your thoughts are helpful.
Dept. of Geography and Recreation
University of Wyoming
Laramie, WY 82071-3371
>From: Lawrence F. London, Jr.[SMTP:email@example.com]
>Sent: Saturday, November 08, 1997 10:39 PM
>Subject: The Big Picture re Organics (fwd)
> Support your local organic market farmer, buy products bearing the
> BuyGreen or Sustainably Grown (ecological & biointensive) labels
> http://sunSITE.unc.edu/InterGarden london@sunSITE.unc.edu
>---------- Forwarded message ----------
>Date: Sat, 08 Nov 1997 12:34:57 -0500
>From: Charles Benbrook <firstname.lastname@example.org>
>Subject: The Big Picture re Organics
> The debate rages on. Pick up a copy of the November, 1997 "Self"
>Magazine at your local supermarket check-out line and read the story "Food
>Alert: Can You Trust Organic?"
> I hate to enter this debate again, since I think much of it should
>be postponed until the rule comes out. But I re-enter it because I am
>worried that the debate playing out on SANET in the last few months is a
>microcosm of what is going to unfold on an increasingly visible, national
>stage in the months ahead.
> Everyone who cares about the future of organic farming and organic
>farmers should step back a moment and ask how this "friendly discussion"
>among the converted is likely to play in the broader media/public.
> Will Sal and other organic farmers really be helped if the Pure Food
>Campaign, and/or other hard-edge activist groups, generate 40,000 letters
>condemning the purity of organic food and making various versions of the
>case that USDA is incompetent and sold-out?
> What if a vocal few, motivated by all sorts of tangential agendas,
>are successful in getting a host of major stories placed in magazines, on
>TV, and in newspapers asserting that the USDA has blown the rule-making
>process, has sold consumers out, and is destroying the integrity of organic
>food? And that as a result, everyone and all groups working in the
>certification field cannot be trusted, and will have their programs ruined
>by the feds/regs. And the final straw -- will we read in Reader's Digest
>next fall a headline answering the question raised in the "Self" article's
>title -- "And now you can't even trust organic..."
> Look at the "Self" article and what it says. (And there are more
>major articles in the mill in other widely circulated magazines). The
>average American consumer will likely read and hear more about organic food,
>the implementation of OFPA, why some people are so upset and so shrill, the
>consequences of food choices etc, over the next 12 months than they have in
>the last 7 years since passage of the act in 1990. The future of the
>industry -- and policies shaping it and people making a living within it --
>are going to be impacted most by what is said about organics in the next 12
>months, not what people have said or feel about water already under the
>bridge. The past is past, and will not greatly influence how today's
>consumers and the next generation of shoppers feel about organics, and
>whether they decide to seek it out when it really matters.
> The "Self" article basically says organic is doing fine, despite all
>the confusing talk over what this or that label means. The article explains
>the state of the rule making process accurately. It states that buying
>"certified" organic is the surest way to go if consumers want clean food
>produced in ways that conserve resources, help the environment.
> On the big issue of genetic engineering, it states simply -- and
>parenthetically -- that "(genetically engineered plants are ineligible for
>such [organic] designation)." I doubt it will be that simple.
> One remarkable passage in the article (page 164) states: "Most
>surprisingly, the NOSB recommends that livestock farmers also get the chance
>to use the 'organic' label. In the past, meat has been the only food
>specifically banned from this label." How's that for a big communication
> The article goes on to ask "IS organic food really better?" Jeanne
>Goldberg, a PhD at Tufts and director of a Center on Nutrition
>Communication, is quoted as saying "nutritionally speaking, there is
>absolutely no evidence organic is better." She goes on to assert
>you/consumers will not get any more vitamins or minerals from food grown
>with manure (and organic systems) than food grown with conventional
>fertilized and pesticides.
> This is the conventional wisdom, a safe position that most
>nutritionists cling too. Dr. Goldberg must have missed the meeting Willie
>Lockeretz organized at Tufts in the spring of 1996, and not seen the summary
>of papers published in a recent issue of the Journal of Alternative
>Agriculture. Or she heard a different message from the papers than others
>in attendance. Most agree the science base is thin to prove organic food is
>"better" nutritionally, but there is too much evidence in the literature,
>and practical knowledge to assert "there is no evidence." Those that argue
>"there is no evidence" are making a political and/or value statement, not a
> I respect those "experts" who continue to judge, on the basis of all
>the evidence (and a resoanbale grasp of it), that the differences are modest
>and/or inconsistant, and do not explain much, if any of the differences in
>health outcomes. Still, I think they are missing some important signals in
>emerging science, and that there is much evidence supporting the hypothesis
>that the American public would be healthier if organic food production
>systems accounted for 90% of the food supply instead of just a few percent.
> Indeed, more and more people are seeing in data on human health and
>diet the suggestion that there is something going on with human health and
>development trends and outcomes that cannot be explained. There is so much
>we collectively do not understand and cannot explain on the general topic of
>-- why are some people healthy and others not? Why do some babies get born
>with functional deficits, and others do not? Are we, or our health, indeed
>a reflection of what we eat and drink? Must be to some extent, it seems to
>me. If everything is all roses with food, why is the incidence of diabetes
>at record levels and rising, especially Type II (the kind strongly
>correlated with diet and obesity)? Why are some cancers increasing,
>especially those that are correlated with diet and exposure to chemicals?
>And why is the incidence of many birth defects and related developmental
>problems rising, especially in affluent communites/regions?
> There are bigger issues that need to be debated as the organic rule
>moves forward. Look at the tone and substance of the debate on SANET over
>the last 2 months. Is this what we hope plays out in the national media
>over the next 12 months? I for one hope not.
> I see great risk ahead if opportunistic newcomers (people and
>organizations) decide to engage organics as the latest "hot issue", entering
>the fray as they are skilled at doing and generally stirring things up
>exponentially with the help of stubborn old-timers and/or those with vested
>interests. As they do so, the rhetorical heat will be turned up another
>notch, and then another notch, and so on (a dynamic Sanet readers have come
>to know all too well). As this unfolds, only the shrill will get quoted,
>they are the ones who will set the tone. The mature, reasoned and informed
>voices -- like Bob Anderson's quotes in the "Self" story -- will get drowned
>out if not cut entirely.
> For what it is worth, I offer some opinions below re the raging
>debates of the day. These are the opinions of someone who has closely
>followed these issues/debates for almost 20 years. I have many friends in
>the industry, and on most of the sides of the debate. I am not engaged
>professionally in, or employed by the organic industry, and never have been.
>At the national level of policy, I have worked in and with the sciences
>relevant to organic farming and food safety all my career (the first
>Congressional hearing I organized in 1981 was on Congressman Jim Weaver's
>"Organic Farming Act of 1981." How many remember that bill, the role of
>Gregg Skillman, the hurdles of that era and the good work or so many people
>who have gotten us to here, but who are no longer in the debate).
>1. USDA is not the enemy, is not evil, and has not been captured by the
>"Dark Side of the Force."
> The four-year or so delay in the rule-making process reflected the
>need to work through divisions within the industry; the scope of the
>education job; and a generally hostile political climate within USDA until
>Clinton's election in 1990.
>2. To the extent the law works, and the regulations improve, it is the USDA
>that must "fix" it. They are the ones who must balance the competing
>messages and pressures -- and there will be many.
> USDA will respond most willingly to respectfully submitted,
>factually based, and constructive criticism and suggestions. Comments that
>are shrill, ideologically motivated, full of nasty allegations, ill-informed
>and conspiracy-dominated will receive the attention they deserve, and could
>poison the well for those inside the industry, the broader
>consumer-environmental movements and USDA who sincerely want to address
>glitches (there will be some) and unresolved issues -- $5,000.00 in sales,
>or $50,000.00; gross or net, measured how? -- in as constructive a way as
>3. OFPA genetic engineering issues are real and important, but should not
>be blown out of proportion, as some are trying to do. The organic community
>should not allow this issue to be exploited as a lever by others hoping to
>scare consumers or open another "theater" in the war waged against
> This could be the organic debate's pandora's box; once opened, many
>innocent people could get hurt needlessly.
> I believe GEM issues can be solved through a reasoned compromise and
>ongoing process. The door should be solidly shut to Bt-transgenics and
>plants expressing scorpion venom, and it surely will be under any imaginable
>scenario. But it should be left open to some current GEM applications
>already in the food supply -- i.e. yeasts among others. No one wants to get
>rid of several such applications of GEM. Plus, other applications will
>evolve in the future that are essentially 100% compatible with the basic
>principles and goals of organic farming. Those who allege that such
>applications "are not possible" are being closed-minded and dogmatic -- just
>what we need to avoid on all issues in this debate if we are to move forward
>(as opposed to re-fighting the old issues over and over). Those that say we
>cannot keep that door "a little bit open..." may be proven right and pose an
>important challenge to USDA and the community, but I am equally sure it
>cannot and will not, and in my opinion, should not be forever "closed shut."
>4. The big issues that will move consumer opinion and motivate greater
>demand for organics are --
> * confidence in the underlying integrity of the law and rule, i.e.
>when people ask "Does it matter if food is produced organically", the answer
>needs to be an unequivocal yes, despite uncertainty over whether a given
>organic carrot has higher levels of vitamin A (or pesticides) than a
>conventional one. (Indeed, there is growing evidence that the differences
>are narrowing in many instances because conventional farmers are picking up
>and applying more organic and biologically based practices. This is a good
>and hopeful development, despite the fact it makes it harder to paint the
>choice as black and white).
> * confidence that buying organic can and will for many Americans
>make a difference to personal health and well-being, especially for mothers
>and kids, people drinking water with herbicides in it (at least 1 in 4
>Americans), and for farmworkers and animals sharing agricultural landscapes
> * confidence that buying organic animal products is a positive step
>in dealing with water quality problems, managing manure, reducing
>microbiological hazards, and treating animals humanely and giving them a
>reasonable chance at an existence most people would not be ashamed of if
>they witnessed it first hand.
>5. The cost of certification is not, in general, excessive or a constraint
>to the viability of even small organic farmers. There are cost and
>accountability problems in some states, and the risk of additional
>duplicative record keeping and costs. But in many states/regions and for
>clients of many private certifiers, the certification process is working
>well, is leading to the exchange of ideas and information, and is helping to
>protect the integrity of the industry.
> Certification cost/duplication and related issues should be resolved
>inside the family, and can be if reason is allowed to prevail, and if the
>spirit of organics can survive the changes going on in the industry and
>6. The rule-making process will hopefully reinforce and highlight the
>innovative spirit and ability of the U.S. food and ag industry to produce
>increasingly high-quality organic food products, in all seasons, at
> This will help break organic and sustainably produced exports into
>markets around the world, creating good paying jobs in hopefully enlightened
>companies that invest in their employees, communities, and natural
>resources, thereby growing the market for organic and sustainably produced
>food. This need not undermine the CSA movement nor plunder the soils of the
>heartland. And it will help build confidence around the world in the
>ability of agriculture to move toward biologically based systems.
>Note New Address!!:
>Charles Benbrook 208-263-5236 (voice)
>Benbrook Consulting Services 208-263-7342 (fax)
>5085 Upper Pack River Road email@example.com [e-mail]
>Sandpoint, Idaho 83864 http://www.pmac.net
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