Since Juli's no longer on sanet and I haven't seen this come across yet, I'd
thought I'd forward it all on to you. debi kelly, MAC
From: Juli Brussell [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Thursday, April 06, 2000 11:18 AM
To: BenjaminJ@missouri.edu; email@example.com
Subject: FW: The Hijacking of Organic Agriculture
Hi --Have you'all seen this?
>From: Mark Ritchie [SMTP:firstname.lastname@example.org]
>Sent: Thursday, April 06, 2000 6:02 AM
>Subject: The Hijacking of Organic Agriculture
>US Farm Crisis (email@example.com) Posted: 04/06/2000 By
> The Hijacking of Organic Agriculture
> . . . and how USDA is facilitating the theft
> Frederick Kirschenmann
> We challenge this romantic, idealistic definition
> of organic farming . . . While we concede that such
> "holistic" farms probably do exist . . .
> it is clear that they are the rare exception and certainly not
> a basis for either definition or for standards setting.
> ---Kahn, Weakley and Harper
>The industrial mind-set represented in the above quote from three organic
>practitioners, indicates just how pervasively industrialization has crept
>into the organic movement.
>Perhaps the most poignant critique of the organic agriculture movement to
>appear in the past ten years, in this regard, is a paper written by John
>Ikerd, University of Missouri. (Ikerd, 1999) Ikerd argues that "recent
>trends are transforming organic foods into just another industrialized food
>system." Ikerd predicts that the "demands for consistency and uniformity
>of product quality and for dependability and timeliness of delivery" will
>force producers to "standardize, specialize and centralize control of
>production and distribution processes." In order to "meet the needs of a
>large-scale, mass distribution" food system, organic production systems
>will have to specialize and become large-scale operations.
>Organic niche markets are being transformed into mass markets. And Ikerd
>predicts that that transformation will push the organic industry down the
>same path as the conventional food system and that organic farmers, as well
>as other segments of the organic food industry, will face the same future
>that currently plagues farmers and small businesses in today's conventional
>Ikerd suggests that it may be this industrialization of organic agriculture
>that led the USDA to include sewage sludge, GMO's and ionized radiation as
>potentially acceptable inputs in its first, 1997, proposed set of rules to
>establish the national standard for organic production and processing. The
>use of sewage sludge would have assisted large scale operations in the
>procurement of the necessary nutrients without establishing closed nutrient
>cycling systems. GMO's would have facilitated pest control of large
>operations. And ionized radiation would have enabled the organic industry
>to use the same mass processing and distribution techniques that
>characterize the conventional food system.
>The unprecedented outpouring of public comments forced the USDA to withdraw
>its proposed rule and rewrite it. The new rule, released in March, 2000,
>prohibits the use of GMO's, sewage sludge and ionized radiation. And while
>the new rule is a vast improvement over the 1997 version, it still promotes
>the industrialization of organic agriculture in at least two important
>First, the new rule still insists that the national standard is both a
>floor and a ceiling. Not only will everyone using the organic label have
>to certify that they meet all of the requirements of the standard (the
>floor) but they also cannot certify to a more restrictive standard (the
>ceiling). No other government or private organic standard-setting or
>accreditation body in the world establishes such a homogeneous standard.
>Second, the new rule still does not provide a satisfactory solution to the
>high cost of certification and accreditation for the small farmer and the
>Of course the homogeneous standard reflected in the rule was not initiated
>solely by USDA. The manufacturing, processing and retail representatives
>on the National Organic Standards Board lobbied hard for this position, and
>the language in the new rule was actually crafted by the National Organic
>Standards Board, over the strong objections of several of its members.
>Therefore the private industrial sector would have pushed for standardized
>mass production standards even without USDA's involvement. As Ikerd notes,
>"Organic production cannot become fully industrialized until there are
>uniform national and international standards that will accommodate
>large-scale, specialized, centrally controlled methods of production." And
>while the private sector can impose such standards, "government sanctioned
>standards make the process far easier."
>Creating such an undeviating standard plays fully into the hands of the
>largest industrial operators. Those firms with the deepest pockets can
>capture market share through price-cutting and market advertising, options
>not available to smaller, less capitalized enterprises. So if smaller firms
>and farms are not allowed to exercise their competitive
>advantage---differentiating themselves in the marketplace through
>practicing superior ecological field operations and having such practices
>certified so that consumers can support such practices with their shopping
>dollars, they will be forced out.
>USDA's refusal to allow certifiers to certify to any standard "other than"
>the national standard reinforces that outcome.
>Proponents of the uniform standard argue that the Organic Foods Production
>Act mandates it. But the Senate Report, which interprets the Act calls for
>a "consistent" standard, rather than a "uniform" standard. Consistency is
>different from uniformity. Consistency has to do with coherence and
>reliability, not homogeneity. Despite this clear difference in definition
>USDA, in the new rule, uses the word "consistent" to mean "uniformity."
> Hijacking the Organic Vision for Profit
>Ikerd argues that the "industrial organic production is no more sustainable
>than is chemically dependent conventional production." He suggests that we
>have to "move beyond organic as a means of production" and affirm organic
>"as a philosophy for sustainable living."
>The industrialization of organic agriculture is especially ironic since the
>organic movement emerged largely as a reaction to the industrialization.
>Sir Albert Howard, for example, felt that organic farming would help us
>learn a "great lesson," namely "how to subordinate the profit motive to the
>sacred duty of handing over unimpaired to the next generation the heritage
>of a fertile soil." (Howard, 1943) Rudolf Steiner was even more direct.
>Industrial agriculture, he observed, was based on a "materialistic" science
>that only concerned itself with "very small spheres of activity." It was
>impossible, he argued, to properly assess the world of interdependent
>organisms from such a narrow perspective. (Steiner, 1924) But today's
>industrially minded organic practitioners consider such holistic
>perspectives to be "romantic" and "idealistic." (Kahn, Weakley and Harper,
>The tragedy of this hijacking of the original organic vision is two-fold.
>First, as Ikerd points out, it will eliminate the small organic farmers,
>certifiers and processors---the very segment of the food and agriculture
>system that crafted organic agriculture. Second, it will provide no
>incentive for farmers or manufacturers to continually improve the art of
>organic farming and processing. The result will be that we will never
>achieve the goals originally envisioned by the founders of the organic
> Charting a New Path for Organic Agriculture
>All of this is not to denigrate the industrialization of organic
>agriculture. Certainly, providing an incentive for large farmers to move
>away from toxic inputs and substitute them with more environmentally benign
>ones has the potential to benefit both the environment and human health.
>But we are losing something vital in the process. We lose the ecological
>wisdom of the farmers who live close to the land, listen to the land, and
>consider themselves a member of the land community. We also lose the
>opportunity to eat more whole, less processed foods. It was both, small
>farmers and small processors, who by virtue of their scale, had learned
>how to grow and process food ecologically, and therefore without the
>"quick-fix" inputs that characterize the industrial system.
>Organic agriculture was based on the notion that it is people who care for
>the land, people who live close enough to the land to know how to care for
>it in their own ecological neighborhoods, that are the vital ingredient to
>ecological health. Industrial-based organic agriculture considers such
>human/community dimensions of organic agriculture "romantic."
> The Immediate Task
>If we are to prevent the exodus of small farmers, certifiers and processors
>from the organic movement, and if we are to preserve the ecological wisdom
>that has characterized the organic food and farming system for the past
>half century, we have to move quickly on two fronts.
>First, we have to do our utmost to help USDA and the National Organic
>Standards Board recognize the profound implications of establishing a
>single homogeneous, industrial standard. We have to urge them to re-craft
>the standard to allow farmers, manufacturers and certifiers to
>differentiate themselves from the mass-produced organic food system in the
>marketplace. Practitioners must be allowed to "raise the bar" on organic
>through superior ecological on-farm practices as well as pursue other
>social and ecological goals, and be recognized in the marketplace for doing
>so, by being certified to those enhanced standards.
>To accomplish this, USDA must redraft section 205.501 (17) (b) (2) so that
>private certifiers can reserve the use of their seal or logo to designate
>ecological and social practices which exceed those required by the national
>standard. After all, USDA's own definition of sustainable agriculture
>includes three components---economically viable, ecologically sound, and
>socially just. Organic standards need to make room for the continual
>enhancement of this rich three-fold landscape. Making organic standards
>receptive to such broad-based, continually evolving practices provides
>farmers and manufacturers with one of the few opportunities to commit
>themselves to sustainable practices and be recognized in the marketplace in
>a credible way for doing so. Consumers must be given the opportunity to
>identify and purchase the products from such enterprises.
>This is not to claim that the product from such operations is "more
>organic" than those produced by industrial methods. But it is to claim
>that the production methods of such enterprises are superior from the
>perspective or organic agriculture. A farm that has closed nutrient
>cycles, thereby building the organic matter in its soils without waste, and
>a farm that uses natural systems pest management thereby making pest
>management largely self-regulating, and a farm that captures solar energy,
>is superior to a farm that uses input substitution for fertility and
>natural (instead of synthetic) pesticides to control pests. To suggest that
>elegant ecological systems are not more organic than input substitution
>systems, is to miss the whole point of organic agriculture.
>Re-crafting the rule to make the national standard a base standard, rather
>than a floor and ceiling standard, will provide the organic industry with
>two distinct opportunities to compete in the marketplace. Large,
>industrial enterprises can compete by meeting the base standard, cutting
>prices and marketing their products through advertising. Smaller
>enterprises could compete by differentiating themselves in the marketplace,
>subscribing to enhanced ecological and social standards that exceed the
>base national standard, filling niche markets, and marketing more directly
>If organic farmers are given the opportunity to differentiate themselves in
>this manner, they have the opportunity to not only survive, but thrive.
>Again, as Ikerd puts it, "Organic farmers can join with other small farmers
>in developing an alternative food system that can coexist with, and someday
>displace, the global industrial food system."
>And once and for all, let us lay to rest the fear that such a two-track
>approach would inhibit trade. Trade will be conducted on the base national
>standard---period. Electing to become certified for enhanced niche markets
>would be entirely voluntary, and could not be used as a trade restriction.
>It is only the manufacturers and distributors who voluntarily elect to
>exercise the differentiated market option (presumably to gain a market
>advantage) that would be limited in the sourcing of their ingredients from
>production systems that adhere to the enhanced standard.
>Second, we need to craft a community-based organic food system that can
>parallel the industrial-based organic food system. Bioregionalism and
>community foodsheds were a part of the original vision of organic
>agriculture. Currently, most organic farmers are still small. According
>to the 1998 Organic Farming Research Foundation survey, 87% of U.S. organic
>farms are single-family operations or family partnerships and the average
>size of an organic farm is 140 acres. Many of these farms sell their
>production directly to their customers.
>In the meantime, large manufacturers of organic foods, specialty chains and
>supermarkets, buy most of their organic produce from a very few, large
>organic enterprises, many of them in foreign countries. There should be
>room in the organic industry for both types of enterprises.
>Once again, there are market opportunities here to meet the preferences of
>a significant segment of the organic market. As Ikerd again points out,
> Current preferences of many organic consumers are not based
> solely on the restricted list of materials that may be used in
> organic production. To them, organic is as much a philosophy
> of life as a physical characteristic of the foods they eat. They
>products produced by nature's principles of production---
> produced in harmony with nature. They believe in diversity
> as a fundamental principle of nature. They will pay premium
> prices to support farmers with integrated crop and livestock
> enterprises that capture solar energy, recycle waste, and
> regenerate the soil to ensure food and farming opportunities
> for future generations. . . . Healthy food, a healthy natural
> environment, caring communities, and a strong society are
> important in their philosophy of life.
>Anyone who doubts the correctness of Ikerd's assessment need only visit any
>of the thriving CSA's or community farms.
>Some of us involved in helping to craft the Organic Foods Production Act of
>1990 originally wanted to exempt "direct marketing" enterprises from
>certification requirements on the grounds that certification existed solely
>to build a bridge of trust between the producer and the consumer. When the
>producer and the consumer are in a direct relationship, no bridge is
>required. However, some consumer groups correctly pointed out that often
>when the consumer purchases directly from a producer---say at a farmer's
>market---she still has no way of knowing where the food came from or how it
>was produced. Consequently, the law introduced a compromise to protect the
>small producer---the $5,000 exemption---a strategy that clearly fails in
>So we have some unfinished business to take care of. We need to provide a
>place at the organic table for the small organic farmer, certifier and
>processor who operate in a community based context.
>The community-based organic agriculture that has emerged in the organic
>movement will continue to thrive, whether we allow it to legally use the
>word organic or not. The people (both producers and consumers) in
>community-based organic food systems will not give up what they have found.
> Healthy, delicious, whole, organically produced food; the reliability of
>knowing the farmer who grows the food and the small processor who processes
>it; the ability to be physically present where the food is grown and
>processed. And much more. While this movement will thrive without the
>blessing of the national organic standard, we should not turn our backs on
>this vital part of the organic industry. The organic movement stands to
>lose much more than the farmers and eaters who are part of such
>community-based food systems if we fail to include them pro-actively in the
>I believe it is far from impossible to revisit the rule---and if need be
>the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990---and expand its scope to provide
>for community-based organic food and agriculture systems. It will take
>some time to develop the particulars, but people involved in these
>community-based food systems have already thought a lot about how they want
>to market their production, how they can insure their customers that their
>labels have integrity, and how they can identify the ecological and social
>criteria that constitute a sustainable community food system. I expect
>that if we invite them into the dialog we will quickly learn how to
>re-craft the rule to accommodate their needs and the needs of small
>farmers, certifiers and processors.
> A Concluding Unscientific Postscript
>The industrial-based organic food system, despite its many marketing
>advantages, may find problems of its own as the industry grows. Dennis
>Avery, of course, has it wrong. He has been promulgating the notion that
>organic food is less safe than conventional food because organic farmers
>"use manure." Food borne illness, of course, is not primarily traced back
>to the field or to the barn, but to the highly centralized, mass-production
>processing facilities. The speed with which meat animals are processed by
>unskilled labor is a major factor in the contamination of meat. The
>conventional food system, of course, tries to solve these problems through
>the use of various synthetic inputs. And eventually it plans to solve the
>problem through ionized radiation.
>As the organic industry moves into larger, mass-produced processing
>ventures without these quick fixes, Dennis Avery could yet be proven right
>about the difficulty of keeping organic food safe, only in a very different
>arena from the one he has elected to question. Even with respect to food
>safety, ecological principles are important. As a result of her exhaustive
>study, Nicols Fox concluded that "Whenever there is a lack of diversity,
>when a standardized food product is mass-produced, disease can enter the
>picture." (Fox, 1997)
>A more immediate problem confronting USDA concerns biodynamic agriculture.
>Biodynamic production systems are recognized as meeting or exceeding
>organic standards throughout the world. But biodynamic agriculture is a
>clear example of a production and processing system that mandates practices
>which exceed those required in the national standard. This puts USDA in a
>bind with its insistence on a homogeneous standard. If USDA decides not to
>regulate biodynamics it cannot legally prevent other production systems
>that parallel organic methods from presenting themselves in the market
>place as enhanced organic systems. That is something USDA says it will not
>allow. If USDA does decide to regulate biodynamics and allows it to present
>itself in the market as meeting all of the requirements of the national
>standard with additional requirements, it cannot legally prevent other
>certifiers from also requiring practices that exceed the national standard.
> Again, that is something it says it will not allow.
>Fox, Nichols. 1997. Spoiled: The Dangerous Truth About A Food Chain Gone
>Haywire. New York: Basic Books
>Howard, Sir Albert. 1943. An Agricultural Testament. New York and
>Oxford University Press.
>Ikerd, John. 1999. "Organic Agriculture Faces the Specialization of
>Production systems; Specialized Systems and the Economical stakes."
>(Unpublished Paper prepared for the conference on "Organic Agriculture
>Faces the Specialization of Production Systems," Lyon, France,
>6-8. Available from the author)
>Kahn, Gene, Craig Weakley and Steven Harper. 1999. "A Response from
>Planet Foods to "Keeping it 'Organic': Making Sense out of the
>of Organic Food." (Unpublished manuscript. available from the
>Steiner, Rudolf. 1924. Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of
>Agriculture. Kimberton, PA: Bio-Dynamic Farming and Gardening
>Association, Inc. (1993 Revised Edition)
>Mark Ritchie, President
>Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
>2105 First Ave. South
>Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404 USA
>612-870-3400 (phone) 612-870-4846 (fax)
>cell phone 612-385-7921
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