Is It Really Organic?
One of the biggest problems we have in our country is the secrecy that keeps the truth about the food industry in the dark. Before taking this course, I, along with many others, believed that I knew what I was eating and where my food came from. If you had asked me where my steak came from, I would have described to you a large farm where cows roam freely, are treated humanely, and graze all day. That is the image that I had in my mind because that is the image that I have seen on TV and in the media. The majority of the country does not know where their food comes from because that information is kept secret by large industrial farming companies. Never in a million years would I have thought that the meat that I was eating came from cows that lived in an indoor facility and were given growth hormones to make them unnaturally large. The big agribusiness companies do their best to make sure that they paint an acceptable picture for the public and make sure that no one finds out about what they are actually doing behind the scenes. Why else would large industrial meat companies make their farmers cover their chicken farms?
The issue of awareness is becoming a plague for our country. What makes it worse is that these large food companies are teaming up with the government to make sure that their profit is maximized at the expense of their animals, the workers, and the consumers. Throughout the duration of the Critical Thinking and Writing course that I took at Santa Clara University, our class investigated factory farming and made ourselves aware of the injustices that are taking place behind closed doors. One of the issues that I analyzed in an essay that I wrote during the first quarter of the class exposed the truth behind “organic” foods and the loopholes that farmers use to fool their consumers into paying more for a similar product.
Organic foods, by definition, “are foods that are certified to have been grown/produced without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. Animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones” (Organic.org). In the last decade, organic food has become so popular that it has ballooned into an $11 billion industry. This is because organic food is a symbol of health and wealth, a fad that has yet to die down. The problem is that large food corporations, with help from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), are scamming Americans everyday by using the organic label to charge even more for a similar product. The term “organic” is so loosely defined that it is basically meaningless. However, the USDA has marketed their organic label as a trustworthy certification that insures consumers that organic foods are safer and healthier than non-organic foods. In addition, the USDA’s NOP (National Organic Program) skews their certification program to help the farms and corporations that seek their certification.
Many Americans believe that organic foods are simply labeled as being organic, but this is not the case. The term “organic” breaks down into three sub-categories: 100% organic (100% organic), organic (95% organic), and made with organic ingredients (minimum of 70% organic ingredients). In addition, foods can be labeled as “made with organic ingredients” on the side of the container as long as they use at least one organic ingredient (Organic.org). This means that when consumers purchase organic foods, which they assume to be 100% organic, they are purchasing foods that are partially non-organic and contain banned substances. Not only is this unethical, but is further dilutes the trust that Americans once had with the food system in the United States. Before taking Professor Leither’s class, I thought that the extra price for organic food was justifiable by the fact that the food was made without pesticides or growth hormones and is healthier to eat. I never knew that there were so many different types of organic labels. What is even worse is that I never knew that farmers could sell non-organic food as organic if they could prove that they did not have the means available to produce the food organically.
According to the NOP and the USDA, “organic farms can produce non-organic foods and label them as organic as long as they can prove that organic material was not “commercially available” to produce their product” (Cornucopia). This means that a farm that produces organic strawberries can legally grow non-organic strawberries and sell them as organic as long they can prove to the USDA and NOP that they were not able to produce them using organic methods. All the companies need to do is find an excuse in order to maximize their profits by scamming consumers.
The organic era that our generation has indulged itself in is just another vehicle for large food corporations to make more money. The issue with all of this is the level of awareness that we, the consumers, have. Whether it be the motivation to actually research the issue or the availability of the information, Americans, for the most part, have no idea where their food comes from or whether or not it is actually organic. It all comes down to being aware of how the food that you are eating was produced.
Throughout the course of the last two quarters, our class has not only analyzed issues regarding food, but also ways to solve them. We came to the conclusion that consumers cannot just sit back and blame the government and food companies for producing our food in factory farms. After all, we are the consumers and the ones that are keeping these factories running. We need to all spread awareness about the issue and make sure that changes are made. In this case, inaction is just adding fuel to the fire. Because of the extensive research that our class has done, I now know more about our food system than 99% of the country. The information is empowering and enlightening. I now know what labels to look for when I shop for organic products at the grocery store. I also try to buy grass-fed beed and meat that is treated humanely. I believe that everyone should have the right to know the same things that I now know after taking this class. It is time for us as consumers to come together and let the food industry know that we are aware of the current situation and not satisfied with how are food is being produced. It is time for a change.
Berner, Karen. “38 Non-Organic Ingredients Found in ‘USDA Organic’ Foods.” The Daily Green. N.p., 19 July 2007. Web. 09 Dec. 2013.
Irvin, Steve. “Is Organic Produce Really Chemical-free? ABC15 Investigation Puts Organics to the Test.” ABC15.com. N.p., 14 Feb. 2013. Web. 09 Dec. 2013.
“Largest Corporate Dairy, Biotech Firm and USDA Accused of Conspiring to Corrupt Rulemaking and Pollute Organics.” Cornucopia Institute RSS. N.p., 23 Jan. 2012. Web. 07 Dec. 2013.
Martin, Andrew. “The ‘Organic Stamp’ – Does It Mean That Food Is Safer?” Nytimes.com. The New York Times, 3 Mar. 2009. Web. 07 Dec. 2013.
“Organic.org – Organic FAQ.” Organic.org – Organic FAQ. Organic.org, n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2013. Ettinger, Jill. “Is Your Organic Food a Fraud?” Dr Frank Lipman. N.p., 8 July 2013. Web. 09 Dec. 2013.