Organics Industry: Led Astray

Editor’s Note: Mischa Popoff is an advanced organic inspector based in Canada, and has been outraged over the hijacking of the organic industry by big corporations. In his new book, Is It Organic?, Popoff provides insight into how the organics movement became an industry that lost its focus and is in danger of losing its identity.

Fifteen percent.

That’s a generous estimate of the sum total of the organic industry that could be considered “legitimate.”

No, I’m not someone with an interest in the chemical or biotech industries. I’m someone with a vested interest in the organic industry. Fifteen percent is the paltry market share left over for American and Canadian organic farmers after cheap imports fill the shelves.

Did you think, like so many Americans, that the organic industry supported local family farms? Silly … that’s what’s referred to as propaganda, or rather, public relations.

Way back when this industry was still a movement, almost all organic food was domestic. But then something interesting happened on the way to Washington. Ambitious corner health-food store owners realized they could make more money if they imported “organic” food from China, Mexico and Indonesia. Is that stuff really organic? Well, the paperwork says it is. But what do the field tests say? Ahh … now you’re asking the right question.

Failing The Test

Asking if organic farms and processing facilities are tested should be akin to asking if Olympic athletes are tested. “Well of course they are!” Or so you’d assume. Well, it turns out they’re not.

Back in 1998, President Bill Clinton listened to the American Consumers Union and required that organic farms and processing facilities be tested at least once a year. Honest organic farmers rejoiced, firm in the belief that the main role of government is to keep things fair for everyone. But the corner health-food store owners lobbied to eliminate field testing from USDA organic standards. Can you say free-for-all?

Activists love to blame this on Bush, but it all happened under Clinton. Anything can now be sold as organic as long as the paperwork is completed and exorbitant fees are paid to private certifying companies that only make money when they give their approval. Conveniently, these certifiers all have branch offices over in China. Corner health-food stores quickly grew into huge box stores and ceased doing business domestically 85% of the time.

Without testing for the very things the organic industry claimed to exclude from food, the industry leaders realized they desperately needed some credibility. They weren’t quite sure where to turn until they made the collective decision in 1999 to ‘go hard’ against a new enemy, an enemy which Clinton had thought might actually be an ally: biotechnology.

This is why you never see the words chemical-free or synthetic-fertilizer-free on organic foods. Sure, organic crops aren’t supposed to be grown with the aid of chemicals or synthetic fertilizer. But it turns out the best you can do is hope there are no residues in your organic food. There’s no guarantee; not even the suggestion that chemical residues are reduced to some sort of an acceptable level.

But you do see bold statements like “100% GMO free” proudly displayed on organic labels because genetic engineering has replaced crop protection chemicals and synthetic fertilizer as the arch-nemesis of organics.

All About Biotech

Now when you read in the news that the CEO’s of “organic” corporations like Whole Foods Market, Organic Valley, and Stonyfield Farm are “fuming” over the Obama administration’s decision to approve the use of genetically engineered alfalfa, you’ll know it has absolutely nothing to do with bringing purer, more nutritious food to market. It’s all just PR.

These CEOs claim to be concerned about the environment, but they’re really just worried because of their own self-imposed, zero tolerance for biotechnology. They made the “100% GMO free” labeling claim their sole raison d’être, and now have to stick with it no matter what.

There’s no proof that biotechnology leads to more chemical use on farms (quite the opposite actually) or that it will “threaten the rights of farmers and consumers,” or “damage the environment.” But from a marketing perspective, the prospect of minute quantities of biotech alfalfa cross-pollinating with organic alfalfa undermines the bold claim — the only bold claim — that premium-priced organic foods are always “100% GMO free.”

The only way organic farmers will suffer is if an organic certifier makes their lives hell when their organic alfalfa fields are within a five-mile radius of a crop of biotech alfalfa. This is why hardly anyone grows organic canola anymore in North America: the for-profit organic certifiers forced organic farmers to stop growing canola so the leaders of the organic industry could then launch legal action against the makers of Roundup Ready, biotech canola; legal action that, ironically enough, organic farmers were then forced to fund through their exorbitant certification fees. Feeling all warm and fuzzy yet?

In the meantime, if an organic farmer’s crop becomes contaminated by a sprayed chemical, whether through negligence or fraud, or if an “organic” crop over in the People’s Republic of China is fraudulently treated every step of the way with synthetic fertilizer, prohibited herbicides, pesticides and fungicides, well … everything’s just fine as long as the paperwork’s all in order, the fees are paid, and no one blows the whistle. But for gosh-sake, don’t let genes from a genetically engineered crop get anywhere near an organic crop! It’d wreak havoc with the industry’s image.

The organic industry claims to provide purer, more nutritious food — for a price — but it doesn’t do anything to ensure that’s what consumers get. Nothing that is, except for a stupid, self-imposed zero-tolerance on GMO.

Painted In A Corner

I worked the land with my family back when the organic industry was still just a movement. I then had the honor of working across the U.S. and Canada as an Advanced Organic Farm and Process Inspector and met with hundreds of honest organic farmers who want nothing to do with any of the political activism we’re seeing. Never once did I ever see proof that organic food was harmed in any way by biotechnology. On the contrary I met many people who believe, as Bill Clinton did, that organic farming could very well benefit from biotechnology.

But millionaire organic activists have painted themselves into a tight corner and have no choice but to continue scaring the crap out of the public when it comes to biotechnology. Now that they’re firmly committed to cheap overseas supply, being anti-GMO is all they’ve got left to hang their hats on.

Leave a Reply

Seed/Biotech Stories

Young corn plants in soil
Crop InputsFortenza Insecticide Seed Treatment Receives EPA Registration
May 25, 2017
Fortenza seed treatment insecticide from Syngenta has received registration approval from the U.S. EPA for use on corn and cotton Read More
Photo credit: The United Soybean Board/The Soybean Checkoff.
Seed/BiotechKansas State University Researchers Find New Pathogens in Soybean Seeds
May 24, 2017
A single seed seems so simple. Put it in the ground, give it some care, and you’ve soon grown food. Read More
Bayer
Crop InputsBayer to Sell Liberty Business to Seal Monsanto Deal
May 8, 2017
Bayer has agreed to sell its Liberty herbicide and LibertyLink-branded seeds businesses to win antitrust approval for its acquisition of Read More
Crop InputsEPA OKs Monsanto NemaStrike Technology in Row Crops
May 2, 2017
Monsanto Co. announced that the U.S. EPA issued registration for tioxazafen, which is branded as NemaStrike Technology. This approval will Read More
Trending Articles
Migrant farm workers
LegislationTrump: Immigration Crackdown Won’t Impact U.S. Agriculture
May 16, 2017
President Donald Trump said he would seek to keep his tough immigration enforcement policies from harming the U.S. farm industry Read More
AGCO Ratliff featured
Eric SfiligojRemembering Robert Ratliff
May 15, 2017
With all the fast-paced happenings in agriculture this spring, with multiple mergers in the works and planting season in full Read More
Case sprayer nozzle closeup
EquipmentSpray Application: A Nozzle Renaissance
May 2, 2017
If you had asked four-decade ag veteran Mark Bartel, President of Wilger Inc., just a few years ago what lay Read More
ManagementWashington Update, Dow-DuPont Earnings, and the Passing of an AGCO Legend
April 27, 2017
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj talk about the latest Beltway news, crop protection company 1st quarter numbers, and the Read More
Crop InputsFlying Under the Radar No More, FMC Goes Big
April 13, 2017
Describing FMC as “under the radar,” admittedly, is probably a stretch. But in a snap of the fingers, FMC upped Read More
Young Corn Plants
Crop NutritionStill Hunting Yields
April 1, 2017
There’s no denying it — the agricultural marketplace today is undergoing a fundamental shift in fortunes. Not too many years Read More
Latest News
ManagementTrip Report, PSM R.I.P, and Ag’s Reaction to Federal Bu…
May 25, 2017
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj talk about their recent travels, the end for Process Safety Management (PSM), and how Read More
Corn soil
LegislationARA Member Testifies Before Senate Ag Committee
May 25, 2017
Agricultural retailers stand on the front-lines of the American economy. As trusted advisors to America’s farmers, ag retailers are uniquely Read More
Young corn plants in soil
Crop InputsFortenza Insecticide Seed Treatment Receives EPA Regist…
May 25, 2017
Fortenza seed treatment insecticide from Syngenta has received registration approval from the U.S. EPA for use on corn and cotton Read More
ManagementFarm Market iD’s Agriculture Database Now Covers More T…
May 25, 2017
Farm Market iD, farmmarketid.com, has announced the release of its 2017 Annual Update of its farm and land database. The Read More
Food IT Fork-to-Farm
Precision AgThe Mixing Bowl Event Connects Technology, Food, and Ag…
May 24, 2017
For the fourth consecutive year, The Mixing Bowl presents FOOD IT, under the theme “Fork to Farm.” Action-oriented entrepreneurs, industry Read More
Photo credit: The United Soybean Board/The Soybean Checkoff.
Seed/BiotechKansas State University Researchers Find New Pathogens …
May 24, 2017
A single seed seems so simple. Put it in the ground, give it some care, and you’ve soon grown food. Read More
Soybean Field
HerbicidesNew Dicamba Herbicide Premix Coming Soon from Syngenta
May 24, 2017
Syngenta has announced the name of its new herbicide featuring the active ingredients of S-metolachlor and dicamba. Upon registration by Read More
Eric SfiligojMonsanto ‘Picks Its Battles’ by Nixing Deere Deal
May 23, 2017
Having been in the trade journalism game since the mid-1980s, I remember several watershed moments during my career. One of Read More
FungicidesSyngenta Launches New Seed Treatment Fungicide
May 22, 2017
Syngenta has announced the launch of PLENARIS seed treatment fungicide for the control of downy mildew in sunflower. PLENARIS contains Read More
Corn close up
Crop InputsMonsanto’s First HPPD Herbicide Garners EPA Appro…
May 19, 2017
Monsanto announced today that EPA has federally approved Harness MAX Herbicide, the first herbicide in the Monsanto portfolio to provide Read More
ManagementPrecision Planting Deal, China Developments, and Enviro…
May 18, 2017
Editors Eric Sfiligoj and Dan Jacobs discuss the latest news on John Deere’s now dead deal for Precision Planting, China’s Read More
Soybean aphid leaf
InsecticidesMulti-state Research Reveals IPM Best Option for Treatm…
May 17, 2017
About 89.5 million acres of soybeans will be planted across the U.S. in 2017 — a record high, according to Read More
GROWMARK-2017-Interns
CropLife 100GROWMARK Names 2017 Summer Interns
May 16, 2017
Forty-two college students are exploring agricultural career opportunities this summer as GROWMARK interns. They are working at FS member cooperatives Read More
Migrant farm workers
LegislationTrump: Immigration Crackdown Won’t Impact U.S. Ag…
May 16, 2017
President Donald Trump said he would seek to keep his tough immigration enforcement policies from harming the U.S. farm industry Read More
Flooded corn in Indiana
FertilizerBoth Wet and Dry Conditions Threaten Nitrogen Loss
May 15, 2017
The weather is notoriously unpredictable, leading to challenges for planting, harvesting and applying the nitrogen (N) your corn crop needs. Read More
farmer Kip Tom
Precision AgAg Tech: On the Cusp of Something Big?
May 15, 2017
The investment and ag-tech sectors’ continuing courtship of agriculture, smoldering for three or four years now, was well in evidence at Read More
AGCO Ratliff featured
Eric SfiligojRemembering Robert Ratliff
May 15, 2017
With all the fast-paced happenings in agriculture this spring, with multiple mergers in the works and planting season in full Read More
Greg Musson, Gar Tootelian
ManagementOpinion: Shaking Your Perspective in Ag Retail
May 12, 2017
Some of you I’m sure have encountered our recently retired salesman extraordinaire, Dan Bellanger. He worked in the industry for Read More