>Your point is clear, like Dale and Grace you feel that organic rulemaking
>concentrates too much on material lists and too little on stewardship
>components. You seem kind of fatalistic about this. Still, I would like to
>know, what approach would you propose to make organic rulemaking better?
>Please try to give some specific examples.
>Hayo van der Werf
Dear Hayo, Bart, et. al.,
It is pretty easy to become fatalistic when one sees rulemaking take
precedence over paving the road to excellence. First one waves flags, then
one rants and raves, then when one is still met with oblivious glares,
shushes and near total lack of comprehension one becomes fatalistic.
This whole process of national organic certification is one of police
actions rather than facilitation. It shifts the focus almost completely
away from attaining maximum quality to enforcing minimum standards.
The word organic is old and rich in meaning. It covers a broad spectrum all
the way from gourmet produce to the (often poisonous) components and
products of carbon chemistry and its industries. I studied organic
chemistry in school and you should experience some of the things called
It is no surprise to find the word applied in health food stores to lettuce
or broccoli that are barely alive and probably toxic, produced by mega
farms with mini mentalities, shipped from great distances and shoved
through the natural food pipeline just before it composts. It really always
has been Caveat Emptor out there, and it will continue to be no matter what
standards are imposed. Set minimum standards and everyone will
automatically meet them? Bah! Humbug! Then why all the paperwork and
inspections and testing? Precisely because people will continue to slide by
underneath the minimums and the minimums will now require elaborate
enforcement. Now minimums are the focus.
What is occurring is simply adding another bale to the camel's back. The
producers who this will affect least will be the big growers who can afford
to carry the extra lug. The little ones who can not afford the time, effort
or expense will disappear from the marketplace. Since many of these have
been leaders of innovation, and for sure they are the leaders in
environmental care, this is sad, however true.
Don't get me too wrong. Some of the leaders in research and innovation have
been large growers. There's some good ones out there. However, as a result
of this, they too will be squeezed. The chain buyers will pit big producers
against big producers and drive them all to the margins of profitability.
In some ways the large producers are even more trapped by this scenario
than the small folks. The small folks can shift gears much more nimbly and
go further towards such things as advertising on the net, specialty value
added products, CSAs and mail order. They can further fill the niches,
while the big producers are stuck with filling the volume channels and
routinely having to sell at a disadvantage.
You may think the real winners are the companies big enough to encompass
production, processing AND trade, like Tyson and ADM. Maybe in the short
term this is true. But in the final analysis they dilute their own
advantages by disillusioning the public.
Basically what we have here is the addition of another bale to the burdens
of the camel. Whenever government bureaucracies get involved the psychology
becomes one of seeking security rather than venturing forward.
Bureaucracies are fear driven, and success in bureaucratic circles too
often involves covering one's ass while obstructing others. The emotional
atmosphere too often is covertly hostile rather than helpful. There's lots
of good people in the system. Please don't get me wrong. I'm not tarring
everyone with a sour wry brush. But no matter how good the individuals are
they are swimming upstream.
No judgment here. Maybe it is good for people to swim upstream. Easy times
do not build character, that's for sure.
One thing that is going to make it MORE confusing rather than less is the
effort to reign in the use of the term organic so that people can't use it
unless they are certified. As a student of organic chemistry I must grin at
the ludicrousness of this. Organic is a generic term and has been for
centuries. Now we are trying to make it property of a select few. There
will surely be blood on the track over this one. Lawsuits, enforcement
problems, adherence to the letter and to hell with good sense. Good
business for lawyers anyway.
I tried to tell all these things to everyone ten and fifteen years ago. No
one seemed to be listening. Many were clammoring for national standards.
Well, it doesn't really matter what those national standards are. The
emphasis will be shifted from achieving maximum quality to meeting minimum
standards and another forty pounds of straw will be added to the camel's
It's good to wrangle over GMOs, irridiation, sewage sludge and composting.
Don't get me wrong. That kind of thing raises awareness. But those forces
working to really improve the environment and the quality of food available
are going to have to rise to even greater pressure now.
If this view is fatalistic, count me in. I'm through with ranting and
raving against regulation. At this point I'm into fatalism. Which means I'm
going to work to increase quality without wasting my time with regulatory
issues. The untrodden path is wide open.
Good luck all,
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