Will you get your money’s worth from “green” food?

By Mischa Popoff on July 2, 2009

There are three basic types of “green” farming. On June 30th, one of them will receive the golden stamp of approval from the federal government. Will this have a positive impact for farmers, consumers and the planet? Sadly, no.

The three types are:

Organic: Synthetic-chemical free, grown in naturally-fortified soil within as natural an environment as possible.

Biodynamic: All of the above, plus some additional strict and esoteric farming practices espoused by the father of biodynamics: Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925).

Sustainable: Some of the above, perhaps, but not necessarily so. Any practice that reduces energy consumption, synthetic chemical usage, water usage, or the clearing of natural habitat for farm land, qualifies as “sustainable.”

The category which generates the most economic activity is certified organic. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry with many organic companies now being publicly traded on the stock market. Biodynamics remains restricted to a very small market, while the amorphous and as yet undefined category of sustainable is barely making an impact.

Common sense dictates that any definition of what qualifies as organic should include a field test. Sadly, organic crops are not tested and the organic industry shows no interest in changing that. In spite of this glaring omission, the government of Canada will, as mentioned above, give the organic industry its stamp of approval in a few weeks.

Even if you never buy organic, millions of your tax dollars have already been spent on this grand, “green” experiment, including new offices in Ottawa, numerous staff positions replete with full government benefits, and of course marketing and promotional expenses to try to convince you how great this all is.

And even though organic food, wine, clothing and cosmetics are marketed as being produced without synthetic herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers, no money will be spent on the science to prove it. Instead, an honor system and nothing more will continue to be relied upon, recognized, approved and promoted by your government. Try to contain your enthusiasm.

Imagine if athletes competing in the 2010 Olympics merely signed affidavits declaring they were performance-enhancing drug free. Imagine how many world records would be broken if they quit testing athletes. This is how the Canadian Food Inspection Agency plans to “enforce” what it means to be certified organic.

If you think this will leave the door wide open to fraud, you’re right. I worked for five years as an advanced organic inspector in the United States and Canada and saw many disturbing cases, none of which were investigated because there is no way for an inspector to test a suspect field. Only the American organic standard even bothers to stipulate what would be unacceptable in terms of chemical residue levels in an organic crop IF a test was done. But the clause is not enforced.

The Canadian standard meanwhile makes no reference to chemical residue levels whatsoever. This means that any amount of synthetic herbicides, pesticides and fertilizer that an opportunist might use will, by federal law, go undetected.

I was a panelist at the Green Wine Symposium at the 2009 Vancouver International Wine Festival earlier this year. My message to “green” wine makers was simple: Everything important is measurable, otherwise it’s just hype. So either prove you’re green scientifically, or don’t make any claim.

As more wine makers, market gardeners, dairymen, ranchers and cereal farmers look at ways to market their products as “green,” they’ll have to go above and beyond the mere bureaucracy of federal standards. Some are pursuing biodynamic or sustainable production methods instead. Whatever claims they make in the marketplace, they MUST back it up with objective, provable analysis; with a lab test whenever possible.

Clearly we can’t count on government to act as a “green” policing or enforcement agent. They have quite literally let the fox watch the hen house when it comes to organic certification. That’s not to detract one iota from the many honest organic farmers, processors and retailers who conduct truly green business every day. It’s merely a statement of fact: the federal government doesn’t care whether or not these business people are honest. They simply can’t be bothered.

Canada’s new organic certification standard is nothing less than a license to print money. It befalls to every honest producer and purveyor of green food to prove his or her worth directly to consumers. Otherwise consumers will very well wonder just what the heck they’re paying for.


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